If Taraji P. Henson starts to get weepy, you will undoubtedly feel a lump in your throat as well. Or at least The A.V. Club did during the Q&A following the preview of her upcoming movie Hidden Figures. Henson’s voice began to crack almost as soon as she emerged onstage. “It’s so important, right?” she asked the crowd. It was the first time she and her cast members had seen footage beyond the trailer, and tears were on the menu. “Oh Lord, we’re going to be crying,” Octavia Spencer said.
The movie—about the black women that worked at NASA in the 1960s—is scheduled for release in January, but it was fêted in grand fashion in Canada on Saturday. After work-in-progress clips were shown, the principal cast—Henson, Spencer, and Janelle Monáe—came on stage with producers Pharrell Williams and Jenno Topping for a brief but raw panel discussion that highlighted the piece’s significance as a counter to the notion that white men were the only people putting astronauts into the sky. “No women, not black or white, were mentioned in Apollo 13 or all of these other movies,” Spencer said. When that concluded, guests filed out to an outdoor party where a stage was set up for Pharrell to perform songs from the movie. There, partygoers were handed hors d’oeuvres, tequila, and branded umbrellas to fend off the impending storm.
TIFF artistic director Cameron D. Bailey noted in an introduction that the festival rarely hosts sneak peeks of this nature, but if this presentation is any indication, we won’t be waiting that long until we see the final product. A release date that would put it in the running for this year’s Oscars seems in the cards, and the affair was the stuff out of which awards campaigns are made. Which isn’t to say the movie isn’t going to be good. We did get a glimpse at some stirring material: Mary Jackson (Monae) defiantly asks a judge to allow her to take classes necessary for her to become an engineer. Katherine Johnson (Henson) scribbles equations on a chalkboard and impresses the shit out of John Glenn (Glen Powell). Dorothy Vaughn (Spencer) asks for a promotion she clearly deserves. Monae called the women “superheroes.” During the talk, Spencer explained that only two of the women are still alive to see their contributions valorized. “I’m sad that Dorothy Vaughn and Mary Jackson won’t see this day,” she said, choking up. “But I’m excited that Katherine Johnson will.” Henson added that she cared more about making Johnson “proud” than any Oscar buzz coming her way.
Even if it’s difficult to evaluate a movie solely on scenes, it’s easy to acknowledge the passion of the team behind the project. “The reason why this is so overwhelming is because when you come from a place where you have no dreams, no hope, all you see is that people that look like you don’t belong or they have no place in society, right? This story was important,” she said. “This story is so important. If I had known about these women coming up, maybe I would have aspired to be a rocket scientist. Who knows? Not to say that I have a bad journey. But what I’m saying is that nowadays this is all kids of color feel like they have: sports, rap, acting. And there’s so much more important work to be done and to be a part of a project that will give children like me where I grew up, where you grew up, and you and you hope to dream a different dream. I can’t even quite put it into words. It really feels surreal right now.”
For now, Hidden Figures is scheduled for a January 13 release. We expect to get teary with Taraji many more times before that.