Taraji P. Henson Honors Late Mathematician Katherine Johnson, Who She Portrayed in ‘Hidden Figures’

Taraji P. Henson Reacts to Passing of Mathematician Katherine Johnson
Taraji P. Henson poses in the press room at the BET Awards on June 23, 2019. Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP/Shutterstock

A touching tribute. Taraji P. Henson honored late mathematician Katherine Johnson, who she portrayed in Hidden Figures, in the wake of her passing.

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“Thank you QUEEN #KatherineJohnson for sharing your intelligence, poise, grace and beauty with the world,” the What Men Want actress, 49, wrote via Instagram on Monday, February 24, captioning a black-and-white snap of Johnson. “Because of your hard work, little girls EVERYWHERE can dream as big as the MOON!!! Your legacy will live on FORVER [sic] AND EVER!!! You ran so we could fly!!!”

Henson continued, “I will forever be honored to have been apart of bringing your story to life. You/your story was hidden and thank GOD you are #hiddennomore🚀 God bless your beautiful family. I am so honored to have sat and broke bread with you all. My thoughts and prayers are with you! #RIHKatherineJohnson #representationmatters 🙏🏾🙏🏾🙏🏾💋💋💋.”

Johnson’s passing was confirmed by NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine on Monday. She worked for the agency from 1953 to 1986, becoming a pioneer in her field while working alongside a group of trailblazing black women who helped to make space travel for the United States possible. She was 101.

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“NASA is deeply saddened by the loss of a leader from our pioneering days, and we send our deepest condolences to the family of Katherine Johnson,” Bridenstine, 44, said in a statement via NASA’s website. “Ms. Johnson helped our nation enlarge the frontiers of space even as she made huge strides that also opened doors for women and people of color in the universal human quest to explore space.”

He continued, “Her dedication and skill as a mathematician helped put humans on the moon and before that made it possible for our astronauts to take the first steps in space that we now follow on a journey to Mars. Her Presidential Medal of Freedom was a well-deserved recognition. At NASA, we will never forget her courage and leadership and the milestones we could not have reached without her.”

Bridenstine concluded, noting that NASA will continue “building” upon Johnson’s legacy. He also stated that the agency will “work tirelessly to increase opportunities for everyone who has something to contribute toward the ongoing work of raising the bar of human potential.”

In 2016, Henson portrayed Johnson in Theodore Melfi’s acclaimed film Hidden Figures, which won a Screen Actors Guild Award in 2017 for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture. The historical drama scored nominations at the Academy Awards and Golden Globes as well.

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Octavia Spencer starred alongside Henson as mathematician Dorothy Vaughan and Janelle Monáe appeared as engineer Mary Jackson.

Ahead of Johnson’s passing, Henson spoke to NBC affiliate KXAS-TV on Friday, February 21, about her involvement in Hidden Figures. The Empire star regarded portraying the famed mathematician as her favorite role to date.

“I never really had favorites, but I think my favorite — because I’ve seen the results of what’s happening with girls in coding and making space for women in science — [is] Katherine Johnson, Hidden Figures,” she told the news outlet. “‘Cause it’s had the most amazing, positive impact on our community and girls in general.”

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