The San Francisco Film Society announced today that Theodore Melfi’s “Hidden Figures” is the 2016 recipient of the Sloan Science in Cinema Prize, celebrating the depiction of science in a narrative feature film. Presented in partnership between the Film Society and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the annual award carries a $25,000 cash prize and shines a light on special achievement in rendering the worlds of science and scientists through the language of film with a screening event and onstage conversation with the film’s creators.
The Film Society and the Sloan Foundation will present the award on Saturday, December 17 at 1:00 pm at the Castro Theatre, at an event exclusively for Film Society members and invited guests from the Bay Area science, technology and education communities. Following a screening of the film, director Theodore Melfi, star Octavia Spencer, and Tracy Drain, Systems Engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, will participate in an in-depth discussion of the science behind the story and its journey to the big screen.
“When we originally conceived of this prize, it was to draw attention to the inspirational quality of creative depictions of science on screen, and no film this year has done that better than Hidden Figures,” said SF Film Society Executive Director Noah Cowan. “This film tells an important real story behind a landmark human achievement, and brings welcome attention to the group of underappreciated geniuses that made it happen. It does so with incredible heart, anchored by amazing performances from this remarkable cast. I can’t wait to gather this group onstage and explore what brought this film to life.”
The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation’s interest in the “Hidden Figures” narrative began with its Public Understanding Program offering Margo Lee Shetterly a grant to develop the book on which the film is based. Shetterly’s book, “Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race,” reached the New York Times Bestseller List and became the source material for the film.
“The Sloan Foundation is proud to have supported ‘Hidden Figures’ as a promising book and we are doubly proud to recognize it as a beautifully rendered film with the Sloan Science in Cinema Prize with the San Francisco Film Society, our wonderful new partners in Sloan’s decade plus nationwide film program,” said Doron Weber, Vice President and Program Director at the Sloan Foundation. “‘Hidden Figures’ is not just a remarkable tale of a remarkable group of brainy, gifted African-American female mathematicians and engineers who played a pivotal role in the US space program, it’s a reminder of how ignorance and stereotypical attitudes often blind us to the real qualities and real achievements of many ‘invisible’ people in our society.”
“Hidden Figures” uncovers the incredible, untold yet true story of a brilliant group of women who changed the foundations of the country for the better — by aiming for the stars. The film recounts the vital history of an elite team of black female mathematicians at NASA who helped win the all-out space race against America’s rivals in the Soviet Union and, at the same time, sent the quest for equal rights and opportunity rocketing forwards. Everyone knows about the Apollo missions. We can all immediately list the bold male astronauts who took those first giant steps for humankind in space: John Glenn, Alan Shepard and Neil Armstrong. Yet, remarkably, Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson’s are names not taught in school or even known to most people-even though their daring, smarts and powerful roles as NASA’s ingenious “human computers” were indispensable to advances that allowed for human space flight.
The Sloan Science in Cinema Prize is presented annually in the fall to a finished film released in that year. Focusing on dramatic and entertaining films that illuminate the relevance of science and technology to our daily lives or challenge existing stereotypes about scientists, engineers or mathematicians, the Film Society and Sloan Foundation seek to spotlight an important new film and provide a platform to celebrate science during the end-of-year awards season. Consisting of a screening event, a moderated discussion with Bay Area thought leaders and an awards presentation, the Sloan Science in Cinema Prize is a highlight of the Film Society’s end-of-year programming. Prize recipients are selected by a panel of Bay Area filmmakers; local scientists, mathematicians and engineers; and Film Society staff.
This annual prize is a part of the Film Society’s Sloan Science in Cinema initiative, which is designed to develop and present new feature films and episodic content that portray fully-drawn scientist and technologist characters; immerse audiences in the challenges and rewards of scientific discovery; and sharpen public awareness of the intersection of science, technology and our daily lives. Leveraging its position in the heart of the innovation capital of the world, the Film Society seeks to forge meaningful links between the artistic and scientific communities through a suite of programs. In addition to the Sloan Science in Cinema Prize, the initiative also features the Sloan Science in Cinema Filmmaker Fellowship, supporting filmmakers developing science-themed screenplays; and Sloan Science on Screen, a spotlight program at the San Francisco International Film Festival that debuted earlier this year.