(AllHipHop Lifestyle) Certainly this was the case for Taraji Henson when she first got wind of her new movie, “Hidden Figures.” Like most Americans, Taraji had no idea that black women had anything to do with the dawn of space travel in the U.S. – let alone being key to the dizzying mathematics that made it possible for NASA to beat the Russians when it came to putting astronauts into space.
“I knew nothing about it. I was a little upset because had I known about these women, maybe I would have dreamed or aspired to be a rocket scientist,” ruminated the actress known and beloved to many as the brash and hard as nails Cookie Lyon on Fox television’s “Empire.” “ I didn’t think I could dream like that. I didn’t know that that dream was available for someone like me,” said Henson of the role that she is now playing which is generating some serious Oscar buzz.
“Hidden Figures,” which opens on Christmas day, is based on the true story of master mathematician Katherine Johnson and other black women mathematicians who helped America win the space race as “human computers” who crunched numbers and in the case of Johnson, discovered new forms of mathematics key to NASA’s success in being the first country to ever send astronauts into space.
For Henson, the opportunity to play the real life mathematician Johnson was as daunting as it was exciting. “Katherine Johnson scared the hell out of me,” admits Henson, on the subject of being believable as a once in a lifetime unsung genius. “ Math gives me- I break out in hives,” confides Henson with a shudder, adding: “It reminds me of failure.”
Nevertheless, it was a welcome challenge to portray strength of a different nature from that which most of her fans are used to seeing on “Empire,” which had it’s dramatic season three fall finale last week.
“(Katherine)’s strong in a different light,” said Henson, continuing: “Cookie’s strong because she’s very outspoken. Katherine’s outspoken, but in a quiet way. It’s her mind. It’s her mind that is brilliant. People that are really brilliant, they don’t say a lot. But when they speak. They have something important and powerful to say.”
Much in this understated manner, Henson hopes that “Hidden Figures” will be a powerful way of letting black girls, and people of all colors, orientations and social backgrounds know that genius and the power to affect positive change isn’t limited to one physical package or hackneyed notion of intellect. “I don’t care if you have a purple horn growing out of your head. Can you do the job? And that’s the message that this movie is showing,” concludes Henson with aplomb.
“Hidden Figures,” starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae and Kevin Costner opens in theaters nationwide on December 25, 2016.