There's plenty to learn about the Oscar-nominated film
Since its release late last year, Hidden Figures has captured audiences and critics with its award-winning performances and ultra-inspiring plot.
The film, which is up for a Best Picture Oscar, tells the story of three African-American mathematicians working at NASA — Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson and Dorothy Vaughan — whose research helps John Glenn become the first American astronaut to orbit Earth.
1. While the three leading roles ultimately went to Octavia Spencer, Taraji P. Henson and Janelle Monáe, other actresses were considered to slip into the shoes of Vaughan, Johnson and Jackson, respectively. Contenders included Oprah Winfrey and Viola Davis.
2. Taraji P. Henson admitted that prior to filming she didn’t know about the three women she and her two costars would go on to portray. “I didn’t know [the story] until I got the script,” Henson said. “And I went to an historically black university, where Ron McNair — who died in the [Space Shuttle] launch to space — [had attended]. I actually studied electrical engineering. I failed, but I was there. And this man has a building named after him. If it wasn’t for Katherine Johnson, there would have been no Ron. But hey, who am I? Never heard of her. I was annoyed. I was mad. And this became my passion project. I was like, ‘I have to do this movie.’”
3. Upon hearing that Hidden Figures was given the green light to start filming, NASA employees hoped to lend a hand. “They sent the script over, I commented on it and then spent a lot of time on the phone with Ted [Melfi, the film’s director], talking it, back and forth,” Bill Barry, NASA’s chief historian, told WIRED. “Then the questions started pouring in. People all across NASA wanted to be involved in making sure the film was as accurate as possible.”
4. That painstaking detail not only affected the interior of NASA headquarters, however. In order to mimic the 1960s, the decade in which the film is set, attention was placed on the lamp posts and trees.
5. Hidden Figures also served as a way to reunite former and current costars. Octavia Spencer and Kevin Costner, who star in the film, previously worked together in 2014’s Black or White. Janelle Monáe and Mahershala Ali also starred alongside each other in another Oscar contender, Moonlight.
6. Hidden Figures beat out Star Wars: Rogue One on its opening weekend.
7. There’s a scene in Hidden Figures that may have fans of 1983’s The Right Stuff — about the same space mission, but with a focus on the astronauts — doing a double take. The now-iconic scene of seven astronauts walking down a hallway was mirrored in Hidden Figures — only this time with Octavia Spencer’s Dorothy Vaughan leading the pack of women working at NASA.
Watch the PEOPLE & EW Red Carpet Live Oscars preshow on Feb. 26 at 5 p.m. ET/2 p.m. PT on the People/Entertainment Weekly Network (PEN). Go to PEOPLE.com/PEN, or download the app on your favorite device. Then watch our Red Carpet Fashion Wrap-Up after the Oscars!
8. John Glenn, who — with the help of the women’s calculations — became the first American astronaut to orbit Earth three times, admitted he was not a fan of The Right Stuff. In a 1996 interview, Glenn revealed he didn’t think the film “accurately reflected the people involved in the Mercury program, including me.” He died before getting to watch Hidden Figures.
9. Henson was the only actress of the three leading ladies who had the opportunity to meet her real-life counterpart, Katherine Johnson. Mary Jackson and Dorothy Vaughan passed away in 2005 and 2008, respectively.
10. Speaking of Katherine Johnson, the former NASA analyst approves of the film. “Katherine Johnson saw the movie and she really liked it,” said Margot Lee Shetterly, author of the book, Hidden Figures. “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!'”
The Academy Awards kicks off live on ABC on Sunday, Feb. 26, with a 7 p.m. ET pre-show and 8:30 p.m. ceremony.