Google Supporting Grace Hopper Biopic
Google Supporting Grace Hopper Biopic
Written by Sue Gee   
Sunday, 04 March 2018

A big screen biopic on the life, times and achievements of Grace Hopper has been announced by Middleton Media, the company responsible for the Lego Movie (2014) and the television series Bates Motel. Google is backing the project.

According to an exclusive report on Deadline.com:

The film will explore how Hopper (1906-1992) laid the foundation for the development of our technology-dominated world. Her critical and significant, yet overlooked, achievements include solving The Manhattan Project’s final calculations in WWII, developing the first software compiler, and creating COBOL, the ubiquitous computer language still used in 60% of today’s organizations.

While there is no information on who will star in the film, the script is coming from Lauren Hynek and Elizabeth Martin, who have penned the screenplay for Disney’s forthcoming live-action Mulan pic and it is to be produced by John Powers Middleton and Alex Foster, with Helena Vilaplana overseeing the project.   

Explaining Google's support for the project, Courtney McCarthy, Google's Head of Women in Media Strategy said:

“Grace Hopper was a pioneer who made some of today’s great technological advancements possible. Google’s research shows that perceptions matter when motivating women to pursue Computer Science, and we’re excited to have Grace’s story finally told to inspire a new wave of technologists.”

The film is to based on Grace Hopper and The Invention of the Information Age by Kurt Beyer, a book which is described by the Deadline announcement as a "novel".

 

beyerhopper

 

Although very readable, Beyer's book falls into the genre of "biography" and as I noted in my review of it, it is is rather lacking in personal details. So much so that Beyer, a data processing expert and a former professor at the United States Naval Academy who is acting as a consultant to Middleton Media, describes his work as a  "distributed biography", pointing out that during much of her navy career what she was involved in was essentially a team effort. For that reason Howard Aiken dominates throughout early part of the book which also introduces many other computer pioneers, including Eckert and Mauchly, Maurice Wilkes, John von Neumann, John Backus and both Thomas J Watsons.

While all of this is interesting in terms of the history of computing, aka "the information age", whenever the focus is put squarely on Grace Hopper's personal life you cannot help but think:

"oh yes when I picked up this book with its photo of a glamorous woman I was expecting to read more about her life".

Whether this will pose a problem for the script writers we'll have to wait and see.

It is inevitable that a big screen biopic of Hopper will be compared with having Benedict Cumberbatch As Alan Turing, in the Imitation Game. However, whereas there was no video footage of Alan Turing himself there is quite a bit of Hopper, albeit only from later in her life. This excerpt from an interview with David Letterman dates from 1986, the year in which she finally (and for the second time) retired from the U.S. Navy with, as she tells Letterman, the rank of Rear Admiral (Lower Half). She also lets on that she is about to celebrate her 80th birthday: 

 

 

Will this make casting easier or more difficult?

This isn't the first time I've reported on a forthcoming film about Grace Hopper. Back in 2014 we had news of crowdfunding campaign for Born With Curiosity, a film about her that was intending to use documentary footage in order to tell the story. Film makers Melissa Pierce and Marian Mangoubi had similar motivation and stated:

By looking closely at the details of Grace's life, we hope to not only spotlight her but highlight women's roles in the history of computing and help lead the way to their future. We'd like to dispel the myth of the anomalous unicorns and infallible heroines, and reveal Grace in all her heroics, failings, quirks, and complexities.

This is their promo video:

This crowd funding campaign was successful but the project is still underway. The most recent update from Melissa Peirce opens with: 

Marian and I wanted you to know that although production is slow (money only goes so far) the film is far from dead and we are in the home stretches of compiling all of the footage into a compelling story. We so wanted to bring this film to market this year, and that could still happen, but chances are we will get it slotted for 2018 distribution.

Rather worryingly it sounds as though there all still some fundamental decisions to be made:

We have so much information and several script iterations so now we are trying to figure out exactly what happens next and in what order - do we do a 40 min doc, a 90 min doc, do we have enough information to do a documentary series, etc? 

One of the premises with both film projects is that Grace Hopper is largely unknown and her achievements unsung. However, a lot has happened to bring Hopper into the limelight including being a posthumous recipient of the United States' highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016, the final time that  President Barak Obama was involved in the selection.

Computer Science Education Week, inaugurated in 2013, was timed to coincide with the the anniversary of Hopper's birth (December 9th) and with the growing popularity of Code.org's Hour of Code which occupied the same time slot, many more people have become familiar with the extraordinary story of Amazing Grace. If you don't already know it you only have to look on You Tube to find it told repeatedly. Here's a lightening version from HerStory in STEM

 

 

It will be interesting to see if a big screen biopic can be as informative and entertaining - and whether it be able to provide a better portrait of the woman who wore the navy uniform so comfortably.

grace_hopperjpg

More Information

Middleton Media, Google Team On Biopic About Computer Scientist Grace Hopper

Related Articles

Grace Hopper and the Invention of the Information Age (book review)

Crowdfund Film About Grace Hopper

Grace Hopper - The Mother of Cobol

Google Doodle Celebrates Grace Hopper's Birthday

Grace Hopper Honored With Presidential Medal of Freedom

Grace Hopper & Computer Science Education Week

Benedict Cumberbatch As Alan Turing

 

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