EXCLUSIVE: St. Vincent helmer Ted Melfi might well have found his next film to direct. Melfi is in talks on , an adaptation of the upcoming Margot Lee Shetterly book to be published next year by HarperCollins. It’s about an unsung group of African American female math wizards who helped NASA win the space race. The project was optioned and developed by producer Donna Gigliotti, who got a script by Allison Schroeder. Fox 2000 is in talks to acquire the project, and Chernin Entertainment — which produced St. Vincent — is in talks to join Gigliotti as producer. The goal of all this is to begin production early next year with Fox 2000 president Elizabeth Gabler and her exec Marisa Paiva shepherding the picture.
Already, word is circulating about possible stars and the names I’m hearing include Oprah Winfrey, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer and Empire’s Taraji P. Henson. They and others are being talked up to potentially play Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson, Dorothy Vaughan, Kathryn Peddrew, Sue Wilder, Eunice Smith and Barbara Holley. The fact no one has ever heard of these ladies makes this unbelievable story more appealing. They helped provide NASA with the raw computing power it needed to safely launch John Glenn and his fellow astronauts into space. The story intersects seminal turning points in U.S. history including the Cold War, the space race, the civil rights movement and the quest for gender equality. The author — whose father was a NASA scientist in Langley — notes that after WWII, federal agencies and defense contractors hired numbers-savvy women to deal with the shortfall of male numbers crunchers. NASA did the same. While they dealt with racism and the Jim Crow laws in Virginia, these women became so valued that Glenn refused to launch unless they signed off on calculations that gave him confidence his craft would not turn into a fireball.
Gigliotti, who produced the Oscar-winning Shakespeare In Love and nominee Silver Linings Playbook, acquired the book through Levantine Films, but when the script got noticed by Melfi and other studios, she decided Fox 2000 would be a good landing place. Melfi had been in the conversation to direct the new Spider-Man franchise before the filmmaker abruptly pulled himself out of the running just before the final decision was made to hire Jon Watts. Hidden Figures clearly had everything to do with that exit.
Melfi is repped by UTA and Jon Karas.