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Black Girl Magic: Hidden Figures outshines La La Land

27th February 2017   ·   0 Comments

By Lauren Victoria Burke
Contributing Writer

(NNPA Newswire) — Looks like the myth that Black films can’t make big money in Hollywood is about to become a thing of the past.

In early February, Hidden Figures passed La La Land as the top-grossing (domestically) Oscar-nominated film in Hollywood this season. Hidden Figures focuses on three women who worked at NASA in the 1960s at a crucial time when America was competing with the Soviet Union for dominance in space during the Cold War.

According to, the domestic box office total for Hidden Figures was $137,336,830 as of February 17; the domestic box office total for La La Land was $130,154,066. The movie starring “Empire” fan-favorite Taraji P. Henson made $12,948,935 at the foreign box office, while the musical, featuring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, raked in $167,671,768 outside of the United States. La La Land was released on December 9 and Hidden Figures opened on December 23.

Hidden Figures was based on the book by Margot Lee Shetterly, which detailed the careers of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson played by Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae, respectively.

After working as a human computer at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), the precursor to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Jackson earned her engineering degree, was promoted, and became NASA’s first African American female engineer in 1958. In 1961, mathematician Katherine Johnson worked at Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., with Jackson and Vaughan.

Though the character Al Harrison, played by Kevin Costner, was fictional, the depiction of John Glenn asking Johnson to recalculate and re-verify the IBM re-entry calculations was accurate.

According to, Johnson, “calculated the trajectory for Alan Shepard, the first American in space.”

The article continued: “Even after NASA began using electronic computers, John Glenn requested that she personally recheck the calculations made by the new electronic computers before his flight aboard Friendship 7 – the mission on which he became the first American to orbit the Earth. She continued to work at NASA until 1986 combining her math talent with electronic computer skills. Her calculations proved as critical to the success of the Apollo Moon landing program and the start of the Space Shuttle program, as they did to those first steps on the country’s journey into space.”

This article originally published in the February 27, 2017 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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