Taraji P Henson, who starts in the US hit FOX drama series Empire, has been named as the first lead actress to star in a movie about seven black female mathematicians who worked at NASA in the 1960s.

It was announced last year that the movie would be adapted from a book titled “Hidden Figures” authored by Margot Lee Shetterly, and is predicted to be released by 20th Century Fox  in 2017.

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Taraji P Henson (image courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

The book tells the story of Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson, Dorothy Vaughan, Kathryn Peddrew, Sue Wilder, Eunice Smith and Barbara Holley, who despite tough times for people of colour and tension during the Civil Rights Movement, took on the tedious work of reading data from the black boxes of planes and carrying out other precise mathematical tasks.

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Katherine Johnson

“Most Americans have no idea that from the 1940s through the 1960s, a cadre of African-American women formed part of the country’s space work force, or that this group—mathematical ground troops in the Cold War—helped provide NASA with the raw computing power it needed to dominate the heavens,” Shetterly wrote on her blog.

At the time they were at NASA, Johnson dubbed the group of women “computers who wore skirts”, and they were often referred to by NASA colleagues as “the coloured computers.”

Production is scheduled to start this year. The rest of Henson’s fellow cast members are yet to be announced, although the likes of Oprah Winfrey, Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer, all of whom have either been nominated and/or won an Oscar, were shortlisted last year to star as leads.

[Source – Shadow and Act, Images – CC NASA]