Producer Donna Gigliotti: How #OscarsSoWhite Helped Bring 'Hidden Figures' to the Screen

Donna Gigliotti - Hidden Figures Screening MoMA - Getty - H 2017
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The veteran filmmaker also credits Tyler Perry with proving there was an audience for a movie about women of color.

If it were not for the #OscarsSoWhite protests that erupted in 2015 when no persons of color were included among the Academy Awards acting nominees, producer Donna Gigliotti would have had a harder time finding financing for the hit film Hidden Figures.

Gigliotti, with an eye toward seeing more diversity onscreen, was already developing the film when the controversy erupted, but "financing that movie was absolutely helped by #OscarsSoWhite," she said Thursday as she spoke at the TV & Film Finance Forum East presented by Winston Baker.

Actually, the success of the movie, which has grossed more than $228 million worldwide and earned three Oscar nominations, including one for best picture, shouldn't have surprised the industry, she argued. “I’ve been reading The New York Times every day of my life since I was 17 years old, so if you pay attention to the news, you can kind of figure out what’s out there,” she explained. "#OscarsSoWhite was a little delayed, actually. The truth is, Tyler Perry was there before me, and he figured out that women of color was a very successful business. He made a fortune and got really rich."

Gigliotti, whose credits include Oscar winners like Shakespeare in Love and Silver Linings Playbook, follows one guiding rule. “The No. 1 thing I look for is authenticity in the story — it has to feel real, even if it’s not,” she said during her keynote panel held at Dream Downtown in New York City. "That’s true of Silver Linings Playbook: There’s real authenticity in that film."

The 2012 drama starring Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper earned eight Oscar nominations, including one for best picture, and a win for Lawrence.

"When we started to test [Silver Linings Playbook], I was actually astonished because people came up to us and said, 'My sister, my uncle, my brother [is] bipolar — I’ve never seen such an honest depiction of that experience up on the screen,' " she said. "Authenticity is a big, big part of what the secret sauce is, and that was really true with Hidden Figures as well."

Hidden Figures recounts the true story of the African-American women mathematicians who made invaluable, if generally unacknowledged, contributions to the U.S. space program.

"That was real," Gigliotti said of the characters' stories. "Their experience was authentic. That’s what I look for in material to develop."