The film stars Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe as the Black female mathematicians who helped the U.S. win the 1960s space race. In one scene, Henson, as Katherine Johnson, gets soaked in the rain when she runs across NASA’s campus to use the only “colored” restroom available at Langley Research Center. When her boss, Kevin Costner’s Al Harrison, learns about this, he rushes to the restroom with a crowbar in hand and uses it to hack off the “Colored Ladies Room” sign.
“No more colored restrooms,” he said. “No more white restrooms. Just plain ole toilets. Go where ever you damn well please. … Here at NASA, we all pee the same color.”
Margot Lee Shetterly, who wrote the book upon which the film is based, revealed Johnson “refused to so much as enter the Colored bathrooms.”
The 98-year-old physicist confirmed the real story to Vice, saying. “I just went on in the white one,” she said.
Another fictional scene shows Johnson not being allowed in the control room to deliver her final calculations for John Glenn’s launch until Harrison brought her in to announce the results together.
Johnson told Vice that in truth, she wasn’t allowed to enter mission control and was at her desk when the launch occurred. According to the book, she “sat tight in the office, watching the transmission on a television.”