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'Hidden Figures' scribe Allison Schroeder is used to being the only woman in the room

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Screenwriter Allison Schroeder is used to being the only woman at the table, but she's working to get more women "in the room where it happens" in Hollywood.

"Hidden Figures" co-writer Allison Schroeder was one of just two female screenwriters nominated for the 2017 Writers Guild of America Awards, but she's used to being outnumbered.

Before becoming a screenwriter, she navigated the male-dominated fields of economics and finance. And as a high schooler, she interned at NASA, following in the footsteps of her paternal grandparents, who both worked for the organization.

"Hidden Figures" co-writer Allison Schroeder visits NASA as a child.
Courtesy of Allison Schroeder
"Hidden Figures" co-writer Allison Schroeder visits NASA as a child.

Schroeder says these experiences all informed her adaptation of "Hidden Figures," which is based on the true story of a team of African American women who were instrumental in calculating flight trajectories for NASA missions like the Apollo and Mercury in the 1960s.

At the time, the only women who shared offices with men at NASA were their secretaries, and African American employees were forced to use segregated bathrooms.

Schroeder joined Frame host John Horn in studio to talk about "Hidden Figures" and the work she's doing at the Writers Guild of America to get more women "in the room."

Interview Highlights:

On personal experiences that informed the script:

A lot of the scenes in the movie are influenced by my own experiences as a woman studying math and a woman sort of struggling in the industry and not being taken seriously. When Janelle Monáe walks into the classroom and the professor says, "This curriculum is not designed for a woman." [That's] verbatim what happened to me when I was studying abroad... So that was an easy one to put in there. [The character of Katherine Johnson] trying to get her name on something and the man just not wanting that at all. When you start early and you're writing for free, there's a lot of producers that will take advantage of you... It is seared in my brain forever.

On the importance of women championing and working on the film:

I think that it's extremely important that it started out women and it continued to be women throughout. There were moments where I think the script and the story started to go down old tropes and old stereotypes, and we would pull back and say, No, no, it's important to show it this way. It's important that you have a scene with thirty black women, because we need to show that it wasn't just one. We need to see that image on screen because we don't see it enough.

On discovering the true story behind "Hidden Figures":

This story was hidden to me, and I knew a lot about NASA. They used to time our elementary fire drills so we could watch the launches. I thought that was normal. I thought every kid watched every NASA launch. I would go to the old buildings and read about the history. I knew women had worked at NASA in the sixties because my grandmother was one of them, but I didn't know that there were segregated computing pools and I didn't know that these three women had been so vital to the program.

On her work as co-chair of the Women's Committee at the WGA:

The biggest thing is [getting] people in the room together. There's so many gatekeepers to getting in front of showrunners or executives. If we pull those middlemen out and we get women in rooms with the executives, the people hiring, it seems to break down barriers. Because they can no longer say, There just aren't any women to hire, when you're surrounded by fifty of them. As Hamilton would say, you gotta be in the room.

"Hidden Figures" is in theaters Friday, January 6.

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