Retired mathematician Katherine Johnson — whose pioneering work partially inspired Hidden Figures — appeared at Sunday night’s Academy Awards, where she was hailed as “a true NASA and American hero” by Taraji P. Henson, the woman who plays her onscreen.
In their introductory remarks before handing out the prize, the film’s stars focused on the importance of unearthing history’s hidden stories, such as the life and career of Johnson and her fellow black NASA employees Mary Jackson and Dorothy Vaughan, all featured in Figures.
Johnson — in a wheelchair — then came out from the wings, to a sustained ovation.
She responded with a simple, “Thank you very much.”
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Hidden Figures, which follows Jackson, Johnson and Vaughan and their crucial contributions to the American space program, became a runaway box office hit since its December release. It earned three Oscar nominations, including for Best Picture.
Henson has previously spoken about her deep commitment to the film, saying, “This became my passion project. I was like, ‘I have to do this movie.’ ”
“These women changed the course of history because they didn’t let those obstacles get in the way and they didn’t focus on problems,” Henson said. “They focused on solutions.”
Johnson has given her seal of approval, too.
She “saw the movie and she really liked it,” said Margot Lee Shetterly, author of the book upon which Figures is based. “So I think that is pretty much the highest praise you can give, when the person whose life is being shown on the screen says, ‘Yep, that kind of looks like it!’ ”