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The people behind the film
Activity 5

The people behind the film

Group 1: The real heroes

Text A
Text A
This paragraph explains who were the real heroes that Hidden Figures aimed at shedding light on.

The film focuses on three real-life African- American female pioneers: Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson, who were part of NASA’s team of human “computers.” This was a group made up of mostly women who calculated by hand the complex equations that allowed space heroes like Neil Armstrong, Alan Shepard, and Glenn to travel safely to space. Through they ensured their stamp on American history — even if their story has remained obscured from public view until now.

“The True Story of ‘Hidden Figures’ and the Women Who Crunched the Numbers for NASA” Matt Blitz,, 2017.

Culture note

In February 1962, astronaut John Glenn made history as the first American to orbit Earth. Few people today are aware of how uncertain it was as to whether he’d make it home, or they weren’t until the movie Hidden Figures recounted the story.

John Glenn

Group 2: Math teacher to the stars

Text B
Text B - part 1
Text B - part 2
This paragraph explains the role a math expert played in making Hidden Figures a realistic movie.

Horne’s expert and affable work as the mathematics consultant on the Oscar-nominated film Hidden Figures helped make the possibilities and power of mathematics available to millions of people across the globe. [...] Over the 43 days of filming in Atlanta, Horne visited the set about a dozen times to work with the cast and crew. As Horne described it, “[a]ny math that she [Taraji P. Henson] wrote on the board, I was responsible for training her to write said math on the board. My other task was primarily to check that the mathematics on the blackboards in the background scenes and in note books was consistent with the things that NASA did at the time.” These “background scenes” included Horne’s own handwriting. In one of the early scenes of the movie, a young Katherine Johnson [Lidya Jewett] factors a quadratic on a chalkboard. Horne actually did this calculation on the board. When working with Henson, Horne encouraged her to think of the mathematics she had to write and speak in the movie as lines in a script.

“Rudy Lee Horne: The Hidden Figure of Hidden Figures 1968–2017”, Della Dumbaugh, Notices Of the American Mathematical Society, 2019.

Group 3: Bringing hidden history to the big screen

Text C
Text C - part 1
Text C - part 2
In this paragraph, the plausibility of some passages of the film is questioned.

Bill Barry has loved outer space since he was four years old. Years later, Barry became an Air Force pilot. Then in 2001, he joined NASA, and for the past seven years has served as the space agency’s chief historian, based in Washington, D.C.

Barry has provided feedback for movies and TV shows before. But, he notes, this was never to the extent he did on Hidden Figures. His main job was to review the script and point out inaccuracies1, or lines that a NASA person would never say. He was brought in after the script was written. Still, he notes, the filmmakers were willing to revise the script “to reflect things that should or shouldn’t be in it.”

But the filmmakers did not always heed2 his advice. “There’s a scene where Mary Jackson walks through the wind tunnel,” he notes. Along the way, she gets one of her high heels stuck. “People don’t walk through a wind tunnel at NASA,” Barry told them. But Ted Melfi chose to keep this scene anyway. He liked its dramatic touch.

Adapted from Gerri Miller, “Meet the people behind the film Hidden Figures”, Science News for Students, 2017.

incorrect information 2.

Rudy L. Horne participates in a panel discussion on Women in STEM, 2016.

Voir les réponses

You are in charge of one text.

Workbook p.23

Who are the hidden people behind the movie presented here?

What is their contribution to the success of the film Hidden Figures?

Prepare a short recap of your paragraph in 2 or 3 sentences.

Useful vocabulary:This movie sheds light on…
They helped by + V-ing...

Let's talk this out!


Share your findings with your classmates and learn about the other hidden people behind the movie.

Is it important for a movie to be historically or scientifically plausible?
Was it important for the film Hidden Figures? Why?

Why do filmmakers sometimes decide not to follow all the experts’ advice?

Useful vocabulary:They decided to + V / They decided not to + V...
A movie based on a true story should / shouldn’t + V...
By being scientifically plausible, the film is more…

From French to English


La traduction de « savoir »

  • Connaissance (nom) → knowledge (indénombrable)
  • Connaître / avoir connaissance de → know (v.)
    Ex : I know you.
  • Être au courant → be aware of / hear of (v.)
    Ex : He had never heard about the female scientists of the Nasa.
  • Avoir appris (à faire) → know how to + V / be familiar with / can + V.
    Ex : I can speak English and I know how to repair a space rocket.
  • Avoir la capacité de → can do / be able to do / be capable of doing.
    Ex : Without Dorothy Vaughan, NASA would not have been able to use the IBM machine.

Exercices p. 70

Let's learn!

Noughts and Crosses

Make sentences using hypothetical capacity, permission and/or obligation. Get in two teams of two and play the grammar game. If your sentence is correct, you can place a cross or a nought.
Ex: A woman scientist should have been allowed to teach Taraji P. Henson.

Over to you!

Comment online about hidden heroes

Let’s use what you have learnt in !

Write a positive and constructive comment intended for the director of the film Hidden Figures.

Express your surprise not to read about the contribution of women experts to the movie. Add the names of actual women experts.
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