NEW YORK, Dec. 12 (UPI) -- Hidden Figures director Ted Melfi says he had hoped to share his NASA-themed film with John Glenn before the pioneering astronaut died, but it wasn't meant to be.
Starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae, the historical drama focuses on three brilliant African-American women who made extraordinary contributions to America's fledgling space program in the 1960s.
Glenn, played by actor Glen Powell, is depicted as heroic, generous and greatly appreciative of the math and technical skills of the women, particularly Henson's character Katherine Johnson, who was integral to his mission of orbiting the Earth.
Glenn died Thursday at age 95, just a few weeks before the movie is scheduled to hit theaters.
Asked by UPI in New York on Sunday about the bittersweet experience of releasing the film soon after the death of one of its subjects, Melfi replied: "We've been trying to show John Glenn the movie since this was finished, which was about two months ago and he's been ill.
"So, his family kept saying: 'He can't right now, he can't right now. He really wants to and he supports the film.' Actually, his wife gave us the rights to those photos and the archival footage at the end of the movie. And I don't know why we felt compelled to put that footage in the end of the movie. You can do the movie without that footage in there. You could just have the footage of the three women and what they achieved, but for some reason, we said, 'We want to put this John Glenn footage in here.' And everyone was like, 'OK.' I cried the other day watching it because it says, 'Well done, John.' I was like, 'Well done, John.' And you just go, 'How is this possible?' I don't know. I think it's like art imitating life."
Melfi went on to say he thinks the themes of breaking barriers and fighting social injustice at the heart of the period film remain relevant.
"We have racial tensions in the country again -- extreme in some places -- we have sexism in the country again. Again and not again. It has not stopped and we have a Cold War all of a sudden... and now we have a new mission to space to Mars. Who could predict all that? You have Black Lives Matter, you have OscarsSoWhite. You have all these things and you're like, 'Could there be more reasons for something to be made?' I don't know the answer. It's crazy."
Upon hearing of Glenn's death, Powell tweeted: "Now THAT is how you live a life! Godspeed, John Glenn. A true gentleman who humbly touched the stars and made us believe in the impossible."
"ripjohnglenn WOW!!!" Henson said as she retweeted Glenn's obituary. Accompanying her message was a praying-hands emoji.