Saturday, April 13, 2024

Oscars: Empire’s Cookie, Taraji P. Henson, Throws Her Hat in the Race with “Hidden Figures”


Donald Trump? They said he’d never be president. And look what happened.

“Empire”‘s Cookie, wife of Lucious, matriarch of TV’s craziest nighttime family? Her portrayer, Taraji P. Henson, can’t get an Emmy for all that fun. But she could get an Oscar nomination for her lead role in “Hidden Figures.” (The studio is also pushing Oscar winner Octavia Spencer and singer Janelle Monae in Supporting.)

The first screening of this much anticipated drama was held last night in Los Angeles, and the reaction was tremendous, eliciting a rapturous reception from the industry packed crowd. Directed, produced and co-written by the talented director of “St. Vincent” Theodore Melfi, the film tells the untold story of three brilliant African American women, Katherine G. Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae) who were an integral part of the NASA team to launch John Glenn into orbit.

The film also stars Kevin Costner as the irascible boss Al Harrison, Jim Parsons and Kirsten Dunst as their co-workers, Mahershala Ali (a knockout in “Moonlight”), wonderfully elegant as Katherine’s husband, and Glen Powell (who stole Richard Linklater’s “Everybody Wants Some” earlier this year) who conveys John Glenn’s appeal and heroism perfectly. 

At the Q&A afterwards, the cast revealed none of them knew this story actually happened.  Octavia noted, “I thought it was fiction, that’s a great idea.  Don’t they know it didn’t happen?”  The project came to Melfi and literally at the last minute he turned the newest “Spider Man” movie down to do this.  Said Ted, “I read it and said, oh shit, I have to do this.”

Kevin Costner, heaping praise on Ted, explained his struggle with the role.  “I was the last person cast.  The scales came off my eyes with this film.  I was ashamed at not knowing this story one minute and thrilled the next that it’s finally being told.  I was having trouble getting a grip on this role.  I called Ted and told him this dude is schizophrenic.  Once Ted told me that he was a compilation of three guys, then it all came together.”

Politics did come up last night.  Jim Parsons noted, “It’s not fun being on the wrong side of history either on this film or in real life.  So gratifying even to be a part of this story.” Octavia added, “I was really depressed and felt like I was living in an America I didn’t know. I realized that if these women, who lived in a de facto segregated and blatantly sexist and racist time, could help put men in space, then we can vote them out in two years.  This is a call to action, we can galvanize.”

Costner became wistful as he talked about his love of movies. “Movies work at their very best when they become about moments. We learned to kiss from the movies; we were disappointed when we realized we couldn’t be James Bond, moments we’ll never forget.  I’ve had enough attention for a lifetime.  To be able to be a bit of support for this movie are memories I’ll have for the rest of my life.  This is a good moment for me.”

Singer Janelle Monae– who’s also stunning in “Moonlight” this season– summed it up wonderfully by saying, “We all wanted to make those ladies proud, we didn’t want their stories to be hidden anymore.”  Not going to happen. “Hidden Figures,” opens in limited release on December 25th and goes nationwide on January 6th, 2017. The film is a gem, a sure awards contender and truly not to be missed. The music, by Pharrell Williams, is fantastic too. Check out “I See A Victory,” sung by Kim Burrell and Pharrell, and “Running,” sung by Pharrell below.

P.S. from RF– love this song. Love it.

Leah Sydney
Leah Sydney
Leah Sydney writes from Los Angeles for A seasoned journalist with a long history during the halcyon days of the NY Daily News, Leah is a member of the Critics Choice and Rotten Tomatoes.

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