It was a close race, but thanks to a Sunday surge, the critically acclaimed, award-nominated ‘Hidden Figures’ (NOT ‘Hidden Fences’ as numerous celebs called it at Sunday’s Golden Globes) pulled a last minute upset, taking the #1 spot at the box office, dethroning the juggernaut that is ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’. This true story biopic tells the largely untold tale of female African American mathematicians who provided valuable data to NASA during the earliest days of the space race.
The film, directed by Theodore Melfi, stars Taraji P. Henson as Katherine G. Johnson, Octavia Spencer as Dorothy Vaughan and Janelle Monáe as Mary Jackson, along with an all-star supporting cast including Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst, Jim Parsons and Mahershala Ali. It can’t go unsaid, however, that this film is led by three African American women who are not (or were not) major box office draws on their own. Henson, of course, is a television phenomenon, starring on the hit series ‘Empire’. Spencer is a beloved supporting actor and Monáe is a respected musician. But none have ever opened a hit movie based strictly on their own star power.
The film has gotten amazing buzz, scoring an outstanding 91% freshness on Rotten Tomatoes and a rare A+ CinemaScore rating. (Only two movies scored an A+ in 2016, ‘Miracles From Heaven’– which was skewed as it was a faith-based movie attended ONLY by faith-based audiences– and Disney’s ‘Queen of Katwe’.)
Making ‘Hidden Figures’ victory even sweeter, the Eastern portion of the U.S. was bombarded with a winter storm, shutting down theaters in the south (in areas not equipped to handle ice and snow) and severely slowing business in northern states. There was also a controversy when singer Kim Burrell, who contributed to the soundtrack went on a public rant against the LGBT community on stage just days before the film opened. (Burrell was very publicly dropped from an appearance on ‘Ellen’ to promote the film and the stars and Pharrell Williams, who produced and contributed to the bulk of the soundtrack, all distanced themselves from Burrell and denounced her tirade.)
Yet thanks to amazing buzz, ‘Hidden Figures’ saw a huge surge in attendance on Sunday and ended up raking in $22.8M in its opening weekend, over ‘Rogue One”s $21.1M. And as Henson and Monae point out in their Instagram posts, ‘Hidden Figures’ was playing in fewer theaters by nearly half!
Speaking of that, the three leads took to social media to express their gratitude to fans:
#GodIs I have been told my entire career “Black women can’t open films domestically or internationally”. Well anything is possible. Most importantly this proves that PEOPLE LIKE GOOD MATERIAL. HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH GENDER OR RACE. Agreed?! Thank you to everyone who supported this weekend even during the snow storm (which btw affected some of our biggest demographics). AND WE WERE IN FEWER THEATERS!!! What a proud moment!!! #HiddenFigures P.S. telling me what I can’t do only makes me focus on proving nay Sayers WRONG!!!
Thanks to everyone who saw the value in seeing this story told and finally giving these heroines their due!!! The force was with US!!!!!! Thanks for supporting us and them!!! #HiddenFigures A photo posted by Octavia Spencer (@therealoctaviaspencer) on
THE FORCE WAS WITH US. It took over 50 years to tell the story of these 3 brilliant African American female protagonists. Without the research of @margotleeshetterly these women would still be hidden. This weekend we only had 2,471 theaters, while Rogue One’ had 4,157 locations. We had snow storms that caused east coast region theaters to close, but #HIDDENFENCES still managed to win the race! THANK YOU TO EVERYONE WHO BOUGHT A TICKET, BROUGHT YOUR FAMILY/FRIENDS, TOLD A FRIEND, POSTED ON SM, prayed for this film, etc. WE ARE Forever forever THANKFUL. WE DID THIS TOGETHER! Mary, Katherine, Dorothy and all the colored and human computers at NASA who took America to space are HIDDEN NO MORE. WE WILL NOT BE ERASED. ❤#hiddenfigures #starwars #rogueone Side note: I think it’s awesome that two movies about space were dueling it out. Y’all know I’m a space Sci-Fi geek for life .
Obviously, emotions were running high as they should be. ‘Hidden Fences” victory marks a major victory in several quadrants. After all, this is an age when it’s still difficult to get a movie greenlit with a white female lead, much less a black one, much less THREE. It’s even still hard to get studios to embrace the idea of a black male lead.
That’s not to say that Hollywood will look at this and immediately change the way it thinks. But it’s a major step towards that change.
Did you catch ‘Hidden Figures’ this weekend? If not, will its success make you more likely to check it out in the coming weeks?