Published Dec 21, 2016
There are few films as unique, timely or uplifting as awards season standout Hidden Figures. Based on a true story, the film follows the previously untold story of three unsung heroes — the African-American scientists who worked behind the scenes at NASA to help John Glenn successfully orbit earth. Directed by Theodore Melfi and starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe, the film touches on issues of segregation, racism and misogyny, all the while maintaining a joyful and triumphant tone.
If there's anyone who can handle all of those subjects with grace, it's Pharrell Williams; the renowned hip-hop heavyweight not only produced the film, but also wrote and produced all of its music.
Here are six things you may not have known about Pharrell Williams' Hidden Figures soundtrack.
6 Things You Didn't Know About the Hidden Figures Soundtrack:
Pharrell Williams Needed to Be Involved: The Film Had All of His Favourite Ingredients
As a space fanatic, an African-American, a feminist and a native of Virginia, Pharrell simply couldn't pass up the opportunity to work on a project like Hidden Figures. As he told Deadline, he simply had to be involved in the project, saying, "Here are the variables: three African-American women, math, science, NASA. How do I not do everything in my body to be a part of this project?"
In a press release, he continued: "This is an extraordinary story about black women with genius mathematical minds who contributed to American history. It takes place in Virginia, my home state, and at NASA, a place I've been obsessed with since childhood."
Pharrell Was Working on the Soundtrack Before He Even Knew About the Film
Pharrell's enthusiasm for Hidden Figures landed him multiple jobs on the film; in addition to producing the movie, he penned the pop songs for its soundtrack. That said, he chalks up his musical involvement to the universe. After all, he was writing songs for the film before he even knew about it.
"Funny enough, a year or so ago I began working on this music and didn't know why I was working on it," he said in a Facebook Q&A. "I attempted to put something behind the music, and nothing ever really worked out. I just — nothing worked for it. Then when this project popped up it was like, 'Oh, that's what I was supposed to be doing.'"
Pharrell Didn't Just Work on the Film's Soundtrack — He Worked on the Score, Too
Like a true musical N.E.R.D., Williams did more than pen the pop songs on Hidden Figures' soundtrack; he also worked with composers Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch to create the film's instrumental score. According to Williams, the three worked hard to make sure the music reflected the pro-diversity message onscreen.
"We wanted to make sure there was a different offering, because when you listen to most scores, the chord progressions and the melodic direction usually has a Euro or Anglo basis to it," he told Deadline. "Our interesting challenge, which we were happy to rise to, was to have something that was a little more reflective of how Katherine, Dorothy and Mary must have been feeling. It was a cool, interesting perk that came along with getting the job."
Janelle Monáe Did Double Duty as a Musician and Actress
Best known as a musical artist, Janelle Monáe's first year as an actress has paid off enormously, as she's appeared in two major awards season contenders. In addition to this film, she also appeared alongside Hidden Figures co-star Mahershala Ali in the critically adored Moonlight. She's picked up the sort of instant accolades that will likely see Monáe onscreen for years to come.
Fortunately, she hasn't abandoned her first love. The Hidden Figures soundtrack finds Monáe exploring vintage R&B on "Isn't This the World" and spiced-up funk on "Jalapeño."
The Soundtrack Has a Gospel Backbone
As with any Pharrell Williams project, the Hidden Figures soundtrack touches on everything from hip-hop to jazz to swing to R&B. Still, its closing track is also its most emotionally resonant — "I See a Victory" is a powerful gospel anthem that packs a punch.
In his Facebook Q&A, Williams said the song "is about something we all can relate to — looking around in your current reality, the odds being stacked against you, and not knowing where you're gonna go, but just knowing that there's a God greater than all of these things, problems and solutions."
To get that gospel message across, Pharrell went straight to the source — the song features a choral arrangement from gospel star (and recent Kanye West and Chance the Rapper collaborator) Kirk Franklin. More importantly, it features a stunning vocal performance from Pentecostal gospel singer and pastor Kim Burrell.
"I was just like, 'I need somebody that can really deliver this, someone that's going to be the buzzer-beater,'" Williams said. "And that wasn't my voice. That was Kim Burrell."
The Film's Soundtrack Came to Life in Toronto
Hidden Figures wasn't even a contender at this year's Toronto International Film Festival, but the film still made a major splash thanks to a multimedia presentation. In addition to debuting 20 minutes of the film, a select group were treated to an open-air concert.
Introduced by Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe, Pharrell Williams stopped by to perform alongside Kim Burrell and Lalah Hathaway. Backed by a full band and choir, it was a high-energy performance that doubled as a perfect introduction to the film.
Hidden Figures is in select Toronto theatres on December 25 and across the country on January 6.