If recent Oscar history tells us anything, it’s that late-breaking contenders (i.e.: movies releasing in December without pre-screening at major fall festivals) typically have a tough time generating major traction in major categories. That could change with Theodore Melfi’s timely Hidden Figures, which held an industry preview Sunday in Los Angeles, and early reactions appear strong enough to push star Taraji P. Henson to a prominent position amid the atypically contentious Best Actress conversation.
Fox presented the film to various members of the film industry and press Sunday night on the studio lot, with stars Janelle Monáe, Octavia Spencer, and Kevin Costner in attendance. The prospective awards player has been on the radar for several months, following a high-profile concert by Pharrell Williams, who composed original material for the film’s soundtrack, accompanying sneak-peek footage shown at the Toronto International Film Festival in September.
“I would not be surprised if [Hidden Figures] 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,” wrote Oscar pundit Sasha Stone of Awards Daily, witholding a full review, as critical reactions are currently under embargo. “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.”
Referencing the film’s setting and emotionally-charged plot — segregated 1960s Virginia, three female African-American mathmeticians who helped NASA position itself as a major force in the Space Race — Stone continued: “This is anything but a depressing movie. But it was hard not to cry when an audience member thanked [the cast] 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.”
Writing for The Playlist, Gregory Ellwood echoed Stone’s words on the how the film’s impact could reverberate with Oscar voters in a year when issues of race and gender play out across national headlines in the months leading up to Donald Trump presidency.
“It’s hard to imagine a film like Hidden Figures about three trailblazing African American women being even more relevant after Tuesday’s shocking presidential election, but for Academy and guild members that’s exactly the reaction you can expect,” he wrote. “It will absolutely resonate with its triumphant storyline about three women of color who overcame misogyny and blatant racism to contribute to one of the most important eras of American history… First and foremost, Taraji P. Henson, who portrays legendary mathematician Katherine Johnson, is absolutely a contender for a Best Actress nomination… It would be jaw-dropping if she didn’t get at least a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress in a Drama.”
Other journalists, including IndieWire‘s Kate Erbland and Vulture‘s Kyle Buchanan, noted the film’s timeliness in the wake of current political turmoil, as the industry-wide push for a greater presence of women and actors of color on movie screens intensifies.
“HIDDEN FIGURES made me feel both better and worse about the current state of the world. I hope everyone sees it,” Erbland tweeted. Buchanan added: “Fitting that a movie about math would embrace formula, but it does so awfully well, and feels doubly needed now.”
Various members of the Screen Actors Guild’s nominating committee were reportedly in attendance at last night’s screening, indicating Hidden Figures could wind up with a few nominations at the upcoming SAG Awards, balloting for which begins on Thursday. Essential to any late-breaking film’s success, however, is its ability to play to both awards voters and the general public, and Mashable‘s Josh L. Dickey seemingly confirmed the film’s crowd-pleasing elements.
“I counted 10 spontaneous applause outbursts during HIDDEN FIGURES tonight,” he tweeted. “More than the last 100 movies I’ve seen combined.”
Hidden Figures enters limited release on Dec. 25 before expanding nationwide on Jan. 6. The last film to win Best Picture with a December release date was 2004’s Million Dollar Baby. This year, Henson and company face stiff competition from current frontrunner La La Land, which also boasts a December release date, though it received a healthy head start with well-received showings in Venice, Telluride, and Toronto.
Fellow Best Picture contenders opening in the coming weeks are Pablo Larraín’s Jackie, Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea, Garth Davis’ Lion, Denzel Washington’s Fences, and Martin Scorsese’s Silence, which will finally begin screening by the end of November.
Check out a few early reactions to Hidden Figures‘ latest industry screening in the tweets below.