Pharrell Williams Makes His Mark in Film Producing With ‘Hidden Figures’

Pharrell Williams Nabs Variety Creative Impact
Photo by Chelsea Lauren/Variety/REX/Shutterstock

Seeing the word “producer” attached to Pharrell Williams’ name is nothing new. As half of the Neptunes and later as a solo artist, the Virginian has put his stamp on more hit songs than almost anyone this millennium. But with the 2016 release of “Hidden Figures,” Variety’s Creative Impact in Producing honoree became one of a different type.

Though he’d been credited as an executive producer on 2015’s Sundance hit, “Dope,” “Hidden Figures” marks Williams’ first venture as a proper film producer. He came onboard the project, which stars Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae and Taraji P. Henson as the real-life African-American women who played key roles at NASA in the run-up to John Glenn’s famous 1962 voyage, back in April with his producing partner Mimi Valdes. At the time, he noted that the Theodore Melfi-directed film was “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.”

At November’s Variety Inclusion Summit, Williams noted that: “The female contribution to society was not acknowledged like it should be. Women’s contributions were often dismissed, discounted. The idea that we get a chance to actually go back and shine a light on the amazing accomplishments of these women — and African-American women, you know. It’s one thing to be a woman in the 1960s. It’s another thing to be an African-American woman in the 1960s.”

In addition to working as a producer, Williams served as the lead creative force behind the film’s music. Composing with film music mentor Hans Zimmer, Williams contributed a pair of Oscar-contending original songs. The first, “Runnin’,” features Williams himself on lead vocals; the second, “I See a Victory,” was sung by gospel star Kim Burrell. Williams is no stranger to the year-end awards circuit, his smash hit “Happy” from “Despicable Me 2” secured the producer an Oscar nomination back in 2013.

Later this month, Pharrell will settle into the producer’s chair for another story of a woman succeeding in a male-dominated field. Michael Larnell’s “Roxanne Roxanne” tells the story of Queens rapper Roxanne Shante, whose fierce battle rhyme skills made her a key figure in one of hip-hop’s most iconic feuds back in 1984. The film bows in competition at Sundance.