If The Help and The Right Stuff got together, they could name their baby Hidden Figures. At least, that’s how it looked at the Toronto International Film Festival on Saturday, as 20th Century Fox screened about thirty minutes of Theodore Melfi’s Hidden Figures, about black female mathematicians who played a role in the space program. John Glenn even makes an appearance, though here, he’s played by Glen Powell, not Ed Harris, as in Phil Kaufman’s famous space race movie.
It’s unusual for the Toronto festival to show parts of an unfinished film. But the festival’s artistic director, Cameron Bailey, has been on an inclusion campaign, and he wasn’t about to let this one get away. “You are the first to see these,” Bailey said as he introduced the scenes, though a Hollywood whisper says that Fox has been testing the film, and likes what it is seeing.
Taraji P. Henson, who plays the real-life space mathematician Katherine Johnson during the Jim Crow era, certainly liked what she saw in Toronto. “It’s so important, it’s so important,” she gasped, as she took the stage, weeping. She was joined by fellow cast-members Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae, along with producers Jenno Topping and Pharrell Williams (who also contributed music for the film).
Melfi was present only in a short video introduction. He said that, as the father of two daughters, he was proud to have made a film that counters any residual notions that women can’t excel at science, or anything else.
Important, Hidden Figures is, and there will clearly be no shortage of both diversity and importance as the Oscar season unfolds. Saturday night brings Toronto screenings Mira Nair’s Queen of Katwe, about a young Ugandan female chess champion, and Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight, about the life and loves of a young African-American man. Friday brought Nate Parker’s The Birth Of A Nation, about slave revolt, and Amma Asante’s A United Kingdom, about interracial marriage. On Sunday, it’s interracial marriage again, with Jeff Nichols’ Loving. Soon, the challenge will be to keep these worthy films from colliding.