The iconic pioneering women behind the NASA space program will find new life on the small screen.
National Geographic’s cable channel is quickly edging itself into the scripted content business, and this latest development is something to be excited about. A series based on Theodore Melfi’s award-winning film Hidden Figures is currently in the works at Nat Geo, according to Variety. While not much is known about the series at this time, this could be one of the channel’s most promising announcements to date given the film’s success.
Hidden Figures is based on Margot Lee Shetterly’s eponymous book which details the crucial roles that black female mathematicians had at the beginning of the American space program. The film was a critical and financial hit and was nominated for Oscars and Golden Globes and took home the coveted SAG Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture. It grossed over $235 million worldwide.
Yet beyond the accolades and high praises from the general public, Hidden Figures is more importantly lauded for telling a story that carries forward the spirit of empowerment and camaraderie that allowed three black women to be the unequivocal heroes. Shetterly was still writing her book at the time of the film’s production, but she and NASA historians such as Bill Barry were consulted in order to ensure that the most important facts about Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson were translated accurately from the archives to the screen.
The result? A film that is equal parts informational and heartfelt — one that was even Katherine Jackson approved. Per Shetterly:
“They really did a big Hollywood rollicking adventure. That great spirit that the space program has — that sense of adventure and drama — they brought all of that to this movie, and these women got to be the protagonists.”
Every biopic takes creative liberties in order to ensure a seamless product that gets a baseline narrative and message across, and some are worse offenders than others. Hidden Figures may be a satisfactorily accurate portrayal of the beginnings of the NASA program, but it is still very much a glitzy production that doesn’t reveal the whole story.
This obviously isn’t an isolated incident reserved for Hidden Figures, but it is definitely something that a Nat Geo series could attempt to further circumvent simply because a show would have more time to flesh out its characters. Johnson, Vaughan, and Jackson were virtually unknown historical figures before the film was released, and parts of their lives were glossed over or tied up in neater bows to push the story forward. A vital aspect of the series would be to divvy up NASA responsibilities more accurately, and portray the importance of teamwork throughout the program. Some characters that were made up for Hidden Figures in order to incorporate themes of racism and sexism that surrounded the actual events of the film may not even need to be present in the series.
In proving that there are still avenues to tell this story while reinforcing the pivotal role that these women played in the early days of the space program, Nat Geo has hit the jackpot. This wouldn’t be their first space-themed series either; a Leonardo DiCaprio-produced adaptation of Tom Wolfe’s 1979 book “The Right Stuff” — which was first made into a historical epic in 1983 — is also currently in the works. Both series would cover the same events in history with different focal points.
Nat Geo has already produced an Emmy-nominated anthology period drama in Genius. Originally starring Geoffrey Rush as Albert Einstein, the series will pick up a second season with Antonio Banderas as Pablo Picasso due to air on April 24th. Three other scripted series are also in development; one about birth control based on the book “The Birth of the Pill: How Four Crusaders Reinvented Sex and Launched a Revolution,” one about the origins of the Ebola virus, and one about the founding of Nat Geo itself. This makes for a particularly fascinating slate of scripted television that sets Nat Geo apart from other networks.