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“Empire” Actress Taraji P. Henson Shoots For the Stars

Photos: Courtesy of Hopper Stone

For Taraji P. Henson, taking on the role of “the woman who loved to count” was a great privilege: “Director Ted Melfi sent me the script through my manager, and I was on board immediately. I was shocked I didn’t know the story. How could history have neglected her and the women of NASA all these years? It didn’t seem possible. I wanted to help let the world know the whole truth about the race to space.”

Doing her homework

As one of the first African-American females hired to work as “computers” at NASA’s predecessor, Johnson played a crucial role in 1960s space exploration, including the Apollo 11 moon landing. In doing research for the movie, Henson spoke with Johnson at her Virginia home.

CELEBRATING SPACE: Henson hopes not only to do the story of the crucial women at NASA justice, but to create something that will inspire girls all over the world to pursue their interests.

“She’s elegant and warm and tells great stories and jokes,” says Henson. “She also is very modest. She speaks of her accomplishments in terms of ‘we,’ never ‘I.’ There were also several board games on the shelf. She doesn’t think she is extraordinary. She considers herself blessed to have been able to work with her beloved numbers.”

Inspiring others

Henson hopes the film will help other young girls pursue STEM careers: “‘Hidden Figures’ is about celebrating girls and women and their wonderful brains — those who laid the groundwork for our future and the future of this country. I hope this movie lets all the girls know that math and science are dreams for them, not just for boys. This is something I never knew as a young girl.” 

Sharing the story

“It’s a long overdue telling of a piece of history,” Henson continues. “It sets the record straight that we are all in this life together. Let us respect each other. All of the brilliant minds and technology of the time needed Katherine’s new math to orbit and re-enter. Katherine, Dorothy and Mary are just three of the many women who worked at NASA, and we pay tribute to them all. One of my favorite sayings is ‘Isn’t is amazing how the universe orders up a piece of art when we need it most?’ The time is now.”

Cindy Riley, [email protected]

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