BY STEVE FISHER
IN THE early days of
the space program,
more than a thousand
women worked at the
Center in Hampton,
the calculations that
would lead to sending
astronaut John Glenn into his initial orbit
of Earth. The African-American women
who worked there had to battle racial prejudice on top of gender politics, working in
subpar conditions and isolated from their
The story was first told in a nonfiction
book by Margot Lee Shetterly, which was
adapted into a movie, directed by Costco
member Theodore Melfi, with a screenplay
by Allison Schroeder and Melfi. Focusing
on three of the women—Katherine G.
Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy
Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary
Jackson (Janelle Monáe)—the relatively
low-budget (;;; million) Hollywood movie
has inspired millions of people, young and
old, and of all ethnicities, to look beyond
stereotypes to find their human potential.
The Connection recently spoke to Melfi
by phone, about the making of the film.
THE COSTCO CONNECTION: What was
it about Hidden Figures that attracted you?
THEODORE MELFI: The main thing is
the injustice of it all. Here are these three
unbelievably amazing brilliant-minded
mathematicians and scientists and engi-
neers that have been hidden for so long, and
how important the story is for the world.
How important for the history books, how
important for our students, our kids, how
important for young black girls and young
black boys and young boys and girls of all
sizes and colors to know that there is
another path for them. That they can
change the world. I feel the injustice of that
and felt that this story has to come, and has
to come now.
CC: The story touches on sensitive topics—racism, women’s rights—yet it didn’t
TM: I don’t believe in heavy-handed. I
mean, I don’t believe life is heavy-handed. I also believe people
can’t get a message or take something in if it’s heavy-handed.
They shut down right away.
Movies are supposed to cause
unification, so I wanted the
movie to unify and to have a
sense of humor, because, you
know, I think everybody
should have a sense of humor.
CC: In adapting the screenplay from the
book, what were the challenges in storytelling and character you had to overcome?
TM: Adapting a movie is not being a
slave to the source material. The [book] is
Hidden Figures (Item #1146465), the movie,
will be available in all Costco warehouses on
April 11, in BD/DVD/Digital HD combo. The
book (Item #1128633) is available now.
Out of the shadows
Hidden Figures shines a light on unknown stars
a nonfiction work, so here
we’re making a narrative film,
and you can’t be positive in
checking balances. You have to
be bound to the essence of the
character, who the characters
are, who they were, how they
behave and what were their
spirits, so that’s the most
The second most important thing is getting all the
chronological facts correct;
sometimes that works and
sometimes it doesn’t work.
Sometimes you have to bend
time or switch times to make
it work. I can give you an example. Like when John Glenn
says, “Get the girl to run the numbers. If
she says they’re good, I’m good to go,” and
that’s a direct quote. However, it took
Katherine Johnson three days to do those
calculations. That’s how complicated they
were. They didn’t do that in the movie. They
took ;; seconds. You’re making a movie.
You’re not making a documentary.
CC: How do you approach directing
TM: Bill Murray gave me the greatest
piece of advice. I was directing Bill [in St.
Vincent] and I was talking, talking, talking,
talking, and he looked at me and he goes,
“Ted?” I go, “What?” He goes, “Stop talking.” And I understood at that moment what
he meant. The actor comes to set with a lot.
They worked and worked and worked and
they memorized and they plug
into the intention, and they’ve
done character work. They come
full. They rarely come empty …
the less you can mess with that
purity, the better, so I think a great
director learns restraint or understands restraint and is able to analyze each actor and determine what
each actor needs. C
OUR DIGITAL EDITIONS
Click here for a behind-the-scenes featurette.
(See page 12 for details.)
Taraji P. Henson plays the
Katherine G. Johnson.