Pioneering astronaut John Glenn remembered by Hidden Figures cast at premiere
Glenn, who died last week, was the first American to orbit the Earth. The stars of the film about the African-American women who crunched the numbers for Nasa talk about his contributions to race and gender equality
John Glenn, depicted in Hidden Figures as a space trailblazer who also gave critical support to pioneering black women at Nasa who helped him orbit the Earth, was fondly remembered by the cast at the film’s premiere.
“He’s a hero. John Glenn was always on the right side of history. During a time when these women, because of their gender and the colour of their skin, were often treated like second-class citizens, he extended his hand, and he trusted women, and women of colour, with his life,” says Janelle Monae, one of the film’s stars.
Glenn, a former Democratic senator, died last week at the age of 95. Also a former military pilot in the second world war and the Korean war, he became a national hero in 1962 for his space flight.
Hidden Figures tells the story of a trio of African-American mathematicians, called “computers,” at Nasa in the early 1960s who helped get him there.
Empire star Taraji P. Henson portrays Katherine Johnson, the woman responsible for the calculations that led to Glenn’s orbit. The other mathematicians are played by Monae and Oscar winner Octavia Spencer.
Glenn was instrumental in breaking down colour and gender barriers. For Henson, Glenn signified what America is supposed to represent.
“When he decided to shake the coloured computers’ hands, he told them their lives matter. And in turn, Katherine told him his life mattered as she made it a point to get those numbers right, so he could come back home and see his family. So that’s what it’s all about. It’s about pushing, putting our differences aside, and getting to a common goal. And that’s moving humanity forward,” says Henson.
Jim Parsons, who plays astronaut Tom Stafford in the film, also hailed Glenn.
“What’s so interesting and sad and touching about him passing away right as this film is coming out is that we are introducing three other major faces of that exact same movement,” Parsons says. “As the film shows, John Glenn was one of the people who let one of these women into the room at a time when that wasn’t allowed.”
Glen Powell, who portrays the astronaut, wished he had the chance to meet him.
“We were attempting to try to set that meeting up. He was very ill for the past year. So he was in Ohio, and we never got a chance to meet him,” says Powell. “But I will say that I’ve done enough research on John Glenn to truly understand the man and come to love him even more. So it’s a tragic loss, but at the same time he lived 95 amazing years. I don’t think there’s a human being on the planet that inspired more lives and more generations.”
Based on the book by Margot Lee Shetterly, Hidden Figures is set for a is released in Hong Kong on February 2.