Last March, the city of Canton was transformed into the era of the 1960s space race for the movie “Hidden Figures,” and now the film is rocketing to the top of the box office.Actress Octavia Spencer films scenes from the movie, ‘Hidden Figures,’ outside the historic 1914 Canton Elementary school building. / Kathryn Ingall
“Hidden Figures” tells the true story of Dorothy Vaughn, Mary Jackson and Katherine Johnson, three African-American women who worked as “human computers” at NASA as the country raced against Russia to put a man into space, according to IMDb.com. Starring Taraji Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae and Kevin Costner, several scenes from the movie were filmed in Canton.
“Because ‘Hidden Figures,’ in particular, is a period-based film, Twentieth Century Fox needed older buildings,” said Canton Economic Development Manager Matthew Thomas, who worked closely on the project.
“Downtown Canton was a good place to film because we have a solid density of older, historic buildings and downtown parking availability allows location coordinators to transport crews and props with ease,” he said.
Misti Martin, president of the Cherokee Office of Economic Development, said the city’s charm was a big advantage for the production team.
“Canton has managed to maintain many of their historical landmarks,” she said. “Areas with historical character and charm are much easier to film, rather than replicate.”
Both Board of Education buildings that were owned by the city at the time of filming were used to create a library scene in the film. The former Canton Cotton Textile Administration office was used as the interior, and the former Canton Elementary School building was used as the exterior, according to Thomas.
“There is one particular point in the movie when you can see an existing building in Downtown Canton as it currently looks,” said Thomas.
“Hidden Figures” hit theaters Jan. 6 but stayed at the top of the box office over the MLK, Jr. holiday weekend, leading at about $20.5 million in tickets across the country, according to the Associated Press.
Thomas said he believed the film’s message and humor has led to its success.
“The movie tells a story of courage and perseverance and, in addition to its historical context, there is so much everyone can learn and appreciate from it,” he said. “I believe the film stretches further into the narrative of many African-Americans who persevered through unimaginable difficulties at a time when discrimination and segregation was the law.”
“Through that same microscope, ‘Hidden Figures’ also potently portrays the awakening of many in our nation to the wrongs of racism and injustice and who bravely chose to take action. There is nothing we cannot accomplish when we peaceably unite and work together and ‘Hidden Figures’ shows us that in a very real way.”
Though there are no other films scheduled for production in Canton, Thomas said the movie business is a great benefit to the city.
“Most of the time, where film projects happen, nearby stores and restaurants receive increased visitations and an uptick in sales, whether from film crews needing a place to eat or people coming to see a celebrity in action,” he said.
“Numerous downtown businesses have expressed how much they have benefited from having film projects conducted in close proximity to their businesses. Some film projects have even purchased props at local retail establishments.”