Oscar Hides ‘Hidden Figures' Star Taraji P. Henson

The Best Actress snub of the actress’ portrayal of pioneering NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson marks a miscalculation by Academy Awards voters.

A mere Oscars snub isn't in the same universe as the indignities suffered by the African-American women whose key contributions to the United States' space program went largely unheralded for decades.

Yet there's a bitter tinge of irony in Academy Awards voters' failure to nominate Taraji P. Henson for Best Actress honors for her lead role in "Hidden Figures."

Henson played real-life hero Katherine Johnson, a mathematician who bore sexism and racism behind the scenes at NASA while computing trajectories that helped launch the nation to new heights. By failing to reward Henson’s standout performance amid a top-notch cast, Oscar badly miscalculated.

Sure, the film notched a Best Picture nomination, and Octavia Spencer earned a deserved Best Supporting Actress nod for her portrayal of Dorothy Vaughan, a pioneering self-taught computer whiz. Yet, the lack of a nomination for director Theodore Melfi doesn't bode well for the hopes of "Hidden Figures" in the crowded Best Picture field.

That's a shame: "Hidden Figures" offers a rare high-quality, critically acclaimed film that's also a box office hit – No. 1 for the last two weeks. 

The movie speaks to mass audiences, thanks in large part to Henson's exceptional, understated performance. The actress, best known as the volatile Cookie on Fox's "Empire," puts on a master class in a subtle character-build as the brilliant-but-shy Johnson goes from suffering in silence during half-mile dashes to a blacks-only women's room to asserting herself when she finds that NASA's numbers don't add up.

Without giving away too much, the film draws straight from history – including John Glenn specifically seeking Johnson’s help in 1962 before he took a leap of faith in the Mercury capsule Friendship 7 and became the first American to orbit Earth.

Too bad Oscar voters didn't directly recognize Henson's work when, in Hollywood terms, it mattered most.

Jere Hester is Director of News Products and Projects at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is also the author of "Raising a Beatle Baby: How John, Paul, George and Ringo Helped us Come Together as a Family." Follow him on Twitter.

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