There was a lot of excitement in 2016 when Hollywood came to Monroe for the filming of “Hidden Figures.” The downtown area was taken back to 1961 Hampton, VA, for the filming of many of the scenes.
According to a story written by Lori Duff for the 2016 Fall Winter issue of Walton Living Magazine, “Hidden Figures tells one of those stories that seems too juicy, too pitch perfect to be anywhere near true. And yet it proves the maxim: truth is indeed stranger than fiction. Margot Lee Shetterly wrote “Hidden Figures” to tell the story of some remarkable women. Shetterly’s book was so powerful, it caught the eye of Donna Gigliotti, the Academy Award winning producer of “Shakespeare in Love.” Director Theodore “Ted” Melfi was so enamored of the idea of the project, that he withdrew himself from talks to direct the next “Spider-Man” movie. Not long afterwards, the movie was being filmed – with major scenes filmed here in Monroe.”
Hidden Figures tells the story of Katherine Johnson, a math whiz who, in the 1940’s, was recruited by NASA. What is unusual about her story is not just that she is female, but an African-American female in the Jim Crow south who would not have gotten her chance but for the labor shortages caused by World War II. It was not easy for Johnson to prove her worth as the years went on. She worked in an office segregated not just by race but by gender. And yet she persevered, calculating the trajectories necessary to launch John Glenn in to space, send him in orbit around the world, and return him safely.
John Glenn did not get to see the release of the movie, passing away on Dec. 8, 2016 at the age of 95. The movie, however, is set for release this week with Katherine Johnson played by Taraji P. Henson. Octavia Spencer plays Dorothy Vaughan, another lead mathematician, and Janelle Monae rounds out the trio of strong, smart women, playing Mary Jackson. Kevin Costner plays the head of the space program. Kirsten Dunst, Glen Powell, Jim Parsons, and Mahershala Ali have critical roles as well. Music for the movie was written by Academy Award winning song writer Pharrell Williams.
Although the real life story takes place in Hampton, Virginia, and the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory, much of it was filmed in Atlanta, in the old Georgia Archives building which stood in for Langley. In the magazine article, Duff explained that the marble building, built at the time the story took place, provides the perfect backdrop for the institutional scenes. Some scenes involving aircraft were filmed at Lockheed Air Force base. However, present day Atlanta and the high tech Air Force base did not capture the flavor of the 1960’s south for every day living.
According to Melfi, “While scouting locations to shoot ‘Hidden Figures’ in Georgia…it quickly became evidence that in order to duplicate 1961 Virginia, we would need to look outside of Atlanta proper. That’s when we discovered Monroe.
“Monroe offered us a great backdrop for the film: from the historic courthouse, to the quaint streets lining downtown, to an old schoolhouse we converted…Monroe was perfect in every way.”
Duff said Melfi was very complimentary about his experience filming in Monroe.
“The town welcomed us with open arms: the Mayor was incredibly helpful and accommodating and really worked closely with us to ensure we were taken care of, the business owners were patient and graceful, and the residents treated us with a down-home kindness I will never forget.
“It’s not easy shooting any film. You’re away from your family, you’re working incredible hours, and you’re not sleeping in your own bed. Monroe was a second home for our film, and the community truly went out of its way to make us comfortable. I can’t imagine shooting “Hidden Figures” anywhere but in Georgia, especially Monroe.”
You can read Duff’s full story with some of the photographs of the filming online in the latest issue of Walton Living Magazine at this link, or you can pick pick up a copy at any local library in Walton County, the Walton County Chamber of Commerce or from any city hall in the county.