Pharrell Williams Q&A: ‘Hidden Figures’ producer and composer
“These women were victims of era and circumstance,” reveals Pharrell Williams about the upcoming film “Hidden Figures.” He serves as a producer and composer on the movie set in the early 1960s in Virginia. In our recent webcam chat (watch above), he adds, “Think about it, most women’s contributions are ignored, discounted, dismissed just because they are women. That wasn’t part of the narrative. You heard of Susan B. Anthony, but there’s not a lot of womens’ stories that are told to us in school.”
Directed by Theodore Melfi (“St. Vincent”), the film recounts the real-life story of Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer), and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae), who worked in the segregated offices of NASA at Langley in 1961. Of the premise Williams says, “This movie is about three African-American women whose math, whose engineering, whose science played an integral role in the U.S. space race. Helping us to get to the moon, among other things, studying and our ability to harness orbital power, and all of the above. A lot of the math that they did by hand played an integral role.” The film co-stars Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst, Jim Parsons, Mahershala Ali, and Aldis Hodge.
Williams composed the score with Oscar winner Hans Zimmer (“The Lion King”) and Benjamin Wallfisch. He also wrote original songs, including the jazz-tinged “Runnin'” that is featured at a key moment in the middle of the movie. Of the inspirations behind that tune, he reveals, “It’s about what it must have been like to be African-American and female in a time when there was all this gender bias and racial bias. But to have to run to the bathroom… a 30 to 45-minute round trip because it was segregated, your bathroom wasn’t in the same building. Women wore skirts and long dresses, so it was pretty tough as an African-American woman. My thing was ‘Man, what must that have been like?’ for them.”
Williams is a previous Oscar nominee for the song “Happy” from “Despicable Me” (2013), losing out to “Let It Go” from “Frozen.” He has won seven Grammy Awards out of 25 career nominations. He has four victories in 2014 working with Daft Punk for Album of the Year (“Random Access Memories”), Record of the Year (“Get Lucky”), Pop Duo/Group Performance (“Get Lucky”), and Producer of the Year. He won twice in 2015 for Pop Solo Performance (“Happy”) and Urban Contemporary Album (“G.I.R.L.”) and once in 2016 for Rap Song (“Alright” for Kendrick Lamar).