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Taraji P. Henson says her 'Hidden Figures' heroine rose above prejudice in the workplace

By Karen Butler
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Taraji P. Henson says her 'Hidden Figures' heroine rose above prejudice in the workplace
"Hidden Figures" actress Taraji P. Henson arrives for the 2016 American Music Awards held at Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles on November 20, 2016. File Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI | License Photo

NEW YORK, Jan. 16 (UPI) -- Taraji P. Henson says Katherine Johnson, the real NASA scientist she plays in Hidden Figures, didn't dwell on how unjustly she was treated at the beginning of her career.

Henson recently told reporters in New York that she questioned Johnson about the racism and sexism she faced daily amongst her peers and supervisors in the 1960s space program.  

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"'How, as a black woman, did you do it?'" Henson recalled asking Johnson. 

"'They were misogynistic and I'm sure you got called the N-word.' And she was just like: 'Well, you know, it just was the way it was. That was the way it was. I just did my job. I wanted to do my job.' She was so humble and she would always use 'we.' ... And I'm like, in my mind: 'No, Katherine, it was you. It was your mind alone that got [astronaut John] Glenn to orbit the Earth. He didn't say go get so-and-so, so-and-so, so-and-so. He said go get that smart girl. So, it was you!' But the fact that she sees the 'we' in 'I' blew me away."

Henson said she was also inspired by Johnson's lifelong passion for math.

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"The way I light up when I get asked questions about acting is the way her eyes danced when she talked about math and how she wanted people to fall in love with numbers the way she loved them," Henson said. "If I had a teacher like that, I could have been a rocket scientist. If there was not an understanding when I was growing up... No one ever said to me, 'You can't do math because you are a girl.' But there was an understanding. You just grew up as a girl [thinking] math and science are for boys. Somebody lied to me because this woman exists! All of these women existed! So, that, to me, made it my mission to do this film. Because I didn't want another girl to grow up believing the myth or the lie."   

Co-starring Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae, Kevin Costner and Jim Parsons, Hidden Figures is currently the No. 1 movie in North America.

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