While John Glenn did specifically request that Katherine Johnson review all of the numbers for the Friendship 7 mission before he would agree to go through with it, he did so weeks before the mission actually took place, not when the countdown to launch was nearing at Cape Canaveral.
When Taraji P. Henson signed on for the lead role, she met with the real-life Katherine Johnson, who was 98 years old, to discuss the character she was about to portray. Henson learned that Johnson had graduated from high school at age 14 and from college at age 18, and was still as lucid as anyone years younger. After the film was screened for Johnson, she expressed her genuine approval of Henson's portrayal, but wondered why anybody would want to make a film about her life.
Paul Stafford (Jim Parsons) and Vivian Mitchell (Kirsten Dunst) are not based on real people. Instead, both characters are composites of different team members who worked at NASA, intended to represent the dismissive attitudes held by some of the white co-workers during this period.
The issue with the bathrooms was not something Katherine Johnson personally experienced. It was actually encountered by Mary Jackson instead. In fact, it was this incident, as a result of Jackson ranting to a colleague, which got her moved to the wind tunnel team. Johnson was initially unaware that the East Side bathrooms were even segregated, and used the unlabeled "whites-only" bathrooms for years before anyone complained. When she simply ignored the complaint, the issue was dropped completely.
The actual working relationship between the engineers and women was not as hostile as it appears in the film. While there were clearly racial issues at play, the majority of the engineers were able to work with the computers with no issues.
One of the ways that Katherine experiences workplace discrimination is when her coworkers require her to use a separate coffee pot. Whenever the office's coffee area is shown, the brand of coffee that they use, Chock Full o'Nuts, is also visible. The use of this brand in the context of segregation is historically relevant. In 1957, Chock Full o'Nuts was one of the first major New York corporations to hire a black executive as a corporate vice-president. The man they hired, retired baseball legend Jackie Robinson, had made history by being the first person to break the color barrier in professional baseball.
On the day that the scene was filmed in which Paul Stafford is speaking to the NASA engineers in the Space Task Group office about needing to develop the math for re-entry, there was an extra face in the crowd. Mark Armstrong, son of Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong, had been invited by actor Ken Strunk to make a cameo appearance in the scene, and joined the other actors who were playing the NASA engineers.
At age 98, Katherine Johnson was the only survivor of the 'Hidden Figures 3' to see her achievements depicted on film. In November 2015, President Barack Obama awarded her a Presidential Medal of Freedom for her work at NASA, and she was further honored the following year when a new $30m, 40,000-square-foot NASA building was named the Katherine G Johnson Computational Research Facility.
Colors were key to setting the mood of the film. "Cold" sets at NASA - where calculations took place - were filmed in sterile whites, grays, and silvers, in sharp contrast to the "warm" sets of Al Harrison's office and the ladies' homes.
In reality, John Glenn was much older at the time of the launch than depicted in the film. When the launch went ahead in January 1962, he was almost 41 years old, whereas the actor who portrays Glenn, Glen Powell, was 27 years old during production.
Grissom's capsule, the _Liberty Bell 7_, was eventually recovered from the ocean floor on July 20, 1999, the 30th anniversary of the first lunar landing (Apollo 11). It had sunk to a depth of approximately 16,000 ft (4,900 m). Over 50 Winged Liberty Head dimes (aka Mercury dimes) meant to be souvenirs of the flight were found inside.
While the music for the film was being recorded, the number of African-American musicians was deliberately and consistently kept at 50%, meaning that half of the musicians who worked on the film were African American.
Katherine Johnson co-wrote, with T.H. Skopinski, the 1960 NASA Technical Note D-233, "Determination of Azimuth Angle at Burnout for Placing a Satellite Over a Selected Earth Position", which can be seen on the NASA Technical Reports Server.
This film was part of a recurring gaffe at the 74th Golden Globe Awards (2017) when two presenters kept referring to the film as "Hidden Fences", due to Fences (2016) also being nominated at the same ceremony. In fact, both films competed for the award for Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture: Octavia Spencer was nominated for her role in this film, while Viola Davis was nominated for her performance in Fences. Davis ultimately won the award.
The film rights to this movie were bought while Margot Lee Sheyterly was still working on the book, "Hidden Figures: The Story of the African-American Women Who Helped Win the Space Race", that was the source of the movie. The book itself takes place from the 1930's through the 1960's when women were still viewed as inferior to men. The Chronicles the multi-dimensional Discrimination the women faced: first as women and then also for their race.
Among the actresses considered for the lead roles were Oprah Winfrey and Viola Davis. Davis was later nominated alongside one of the actresses who was ultimately cast in the film, Octavia Spencer, for Best Supporting Actress at the The Oscars (2017). Davis eventually won the award for her role in Fences (2016). Davis and Spencer also both starred together in The Help (2011), for which Spencer won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, while Davis was nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role, losing to Meryl Streep for The Iron Lady (2011).
In the scene where Mary Jackson exit the courthouse, there is a store on the background. Its sign is partially obscured but based on the font and color it seems to be that of "F.W Woolworth Co.," Their segregated lunch counter was a site of a sit-in, first in 1960 at Greensboro, North Carolina, which became a focal point in the civil rights movement. This led to additional peaceful protests and the eventual desegregation of lunch counters across the country.
When Dorothy and her girls are called to the IBM room, the camera angle shows them marching down a long hallway. This scene is very similar to the one in The Right Stuff when the Mercury 7 astronauts are slowly marching together.
The trivia item below may give away important plot points.
The film accurately portrays what was believed to be a heat shield failure upon re-entry. The film did not provide further explanation, but it turns out a micro-switch on the landing bag, which the heat shield was connected to, was faulty. This caused an indication that the landing bag was deployed and thus the heat shield probably would not have "ablated" properly. The flaming debris seen upon re-entry was not the heat shield but the retrorocket pack, which was not jettisoned, in an attempt to hold the landing bag in place. At the time, however, John Glenn had no way of knowing that.