Toronto: Fox Teases Oscar Hopeful 'Hidden Figures' With Clips, Q&A and Pharrell Concert

Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae all were on hand for a preview of the upcoming release.
From left: Janelle Monae, Octavia Spencer, Taraji P. Henson, Pharrell Williams, Jenno Topping and Cameron Bailey at TIFF's 'Hidden Figures' panel

What do you do if you want your movie to get the Oscar-contender coronation that can come with an appearance at the Toronto International Film Festival — but your movie isn't completed in time for the fest? 20th Century Fox faced that situation with Ted Melfi's Hidden Figures, a film about three women who played integral but little-known roles in NASA's first space missions — as human "computers" — which I hear will get a limited release on Christmas. And so it decided to make a most unusual trip north of the border.

On Saturday afternoon, Fox debuted select never-before-seen clips from the film for a handpicked audience of press and tastemakers at a theater within the TIFF Bell Lightbox complex. Melfi was unable to attend, but introduced the footage via a clip of his own, emphasizing that it's still a "work-in-progress" with temp picture, color, score and effects. Then the fest's artistic director Cameron Bailey brought up the three stars — Oscar nominee Taraji P. Henson, Oscar winner Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae — plus its producers Pharrell Williams (an Oscar nominee himself) and Jenno Topping for an emotional Q&A. And then the studio invited everyone outside for an open-air Pharrell concert featuring music from the film, including the Oscar-hopeful songs "Runnin'" and "I See a Victory."

It all went smashingly well for Hidden Figures, which Melfi said he made "in the hope [the central trio of women] will be hidden no more." The clips looked quite polished and played very well, with several of them — and the trailer that came at the end — receiving applause.

When it came time for the Q&A, the three actresses — all of whom, Williams noted, were first-choices for their parts — were in tears. "None of us have seen this," exclaimed Henson, "only the trailer!" She went on, "This is so important! The timing! It's overwhelming." Spencer added, "None of us knew these women [before reading the script]," but were immediately sold on it upon reading it. "I didn't say 'yes,' I said, 'hell yes,'" Henson cracked, noting that she "needed a departure from [her Empire TV series character] Cookie."

Henson then turned serious, saying she hoped the movie would "give hope to people to dream a different dream," and noting, "If I'd known about these women coming up, maybe I'd have aspired to be a rocket scientist." Spencer pointed out, "No women were mentioned in Apollo 13," and then broke down: "I'm sad that Dorothy [Vaughn, her character] and Mary [Jackson, Monae's character] can't see this day, but I'm proud that Katherine Johnson [Henson's character, who is 98] will." Henson added, "This movie represents what she should be thinking about right now. We need it right now."