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Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe Tear Up During Q&A for Hidden Figures

Last night, Hidden Figures screened on the fox lot – and it is still under embargo so I can’t talk about the movie as a formal review, but I can say that I would not be surprised if it landed in the Best Picture race, and if Taraji P. Henson broke through in Best Actress, or if Janelle Monáe or Spencer made it into supporting. I would even throw Kevin Costner into the ring. Hidden Figures is one of those films that gives back more than it takes and I have to say, it is one of the things people need to see, especially people of color and especially young women of color.

Q&A’s are usually pretty run of the mill. Questions are asked, the stars answer them – sometimes they’re funny, but most of the time — to be honest, and everyone will admit this — they are a chore to sit through. I always think other people would be so thrilled to be where I am while watching so I don’t complain. The best one I ever saw was Paul Thomas Anderson interviewing Martin Scorsese for the Wolf of Wall Street. The one for Into the Woods with Meryl Streep was also good – any time Streep is involved you know it will be great. Jennifer Lawrence is also a very good interview.

But something happened last night that was unexpected. The moderator, Nicole Sperling, asked Octavia Spencer about the director’s acting advice – that she should keep her head held high and her shoulders back. Spencer choked up immediately, recalling that advice. The film takes place during segregation in Virginia (they play math geeks who must sit in “colored” rooms and use “colored” bathrooms) and just to walk into a room means people stare, people look you up and down, people treat you like the maid at best. Shoulders back, head held high means – pride in the face of inhumanity. Spencer spoke and she brought it all back. Both actresses recalled what it felt like to be in that place, to be so very smart and capable and useful to the space race and yet totally hidden from view, treated like lesser humans.

Don’t get the wrong idea – this is anything but a depressing movie. But it was hard not to cry when an audience member thanked them because she never saw movies like this growing up where the women — the BLACK WOMEN — are the smartest ones, the math geniuses, the computer programmers, the engineers. Jesus, I’m crying while writing this.

I will write more about the movie as things unfold but rarely does one see that kind of thing at a q&a – and it was a reminder how rare a film like this, what it means to women and women of color – especially right now.