Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monáe are the ultimate #SquadGoals in Hidden Figures — playing a trio of real-life African-American mathematicians battling sexism and racism while working at NASA during the still-segregated 1960s to help the United States defeat Russian during the International Space Race.
Their characters — Katherine G. Johnson (Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Spencer), and Mary Jackson (Monáe) — were the women behind “Project Mercury,” which helped launch astronaut John Glenn into orbit.
It was one of the largest operations in history — and one that ultimately earned Johnson the Presidential Medal of Freedom from president Barack Obama on Nov. 16, 2015.
But while Hidden Figures puts its ladies at the center of the story, the film also stars Kevin Costner and Jim Parsons in supporting roles. And for Henson, Spencer, and Monáe, the men have earned their way into their squad.
“They have a great deal of respect for us as women and as actors — and these women,” Monáe told PEOPLE. “I think we’re all — no matter what gender what race you are — you can’t not look at these women and see the genius and see that they’re American heroes.”
Hidden Figures hits theaters Dec. 25.