Well this year marked 55 years since John Glenn orbited the earth three times in his lil’ rocket. So naturally I have to write about the film that stole many-a-hearts this year.
Now we’ve seen many movies about humans with super brains with films like The Theory of Everything and A Beautiful Mind but this film is so much more about modern day Einstein’s. It flaunts no egos but sheer determination that will make generations to come proud.
Set in 1960s Virginia, the film focuses on three pioneering African American wonder-women with mathematical geniuses whose calculations for NASA were integral to several historic space missions. One of the their most infamous legacies is being part of the team that helped John Glenn’s successful orbit of the Earth.
First we have probably the most prominent of the three, Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), who shows clever ways in dissecting mathematical theories and analytic geometry which ultimately makes her an indispensable force for NASA. She puts up with blatant racism with some colleagues but is professionally admired by her boss Al Harrison (Kevin Costner).
Second, Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) is the supervisor of the group (though unofficially). When they develop a new model of advanced hardware, she knew it would mean the end of their jobs. So she quickly learns how to decipher complex coding to become a pioneering programmer of the new machines, again, thus rendering her indispensable. All whilst dealing with her quietly jealous condescending boss Vivian Mitchell (Kirsten Dunst).
Last, and by Jove, no means least, we have Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) who aspires to be an aeronautical engineer on the Mercury capsule project. To make this happen she must first enrol into a school where in the state of Virginia bars black students from the only school offering qualifications in her chosen field.
From the start, Hidden Figures makes clear that it is about a trio, not a lone heroine. Katherine is the film’s ostensible protagonist and does gets the most screen time. However, her story is tightly intertwined with the other ladies and each one needing the other to make miracles happen.
Hidden Figures is a painstaking reminder of the realistic depiction of the struggles faced by African-Americans, and by women, during the era of the early space missions (as well as life in general).
The film makes sure the audience is part of the women’s trials and tribulations as well as their successes. It doesn’t ever hide its intention of being a feel-good film, designed specifically to make audiences cheer in moments of triumph and cower when faced with toe curling discrimination.
I was watched this film with three friends, all of them white. I remember whilst I was just engrossed in the film, two of them started moving uncomfortably. One friend looked at me and said “this makes me sick, I can’t believe this shit actually happened.” One outstanding moment sees Al tear a “coloured women” toilet sign from the wall, proclaiming, “At NASA, we all pee the same colour.” What a scene!!!
The script is predictable with its lighthearted optimism but that’s fine as it gives a good history lesson without being too preachy.
So to wrap up this review, I am going to preach. There is an obvious gap in our history, where women, and especially black women, are not properly credited or acknowledged for their contribution to history, science, art or whatever it might be. I hope films like this will hopefully be the catalyst that these women need so they will no longer have to be Hidden Figures.
Director: Theodore Melfi
Stars: Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe, Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst, Jim Parsons, Mahershala Ali, Glen Powell,
Screenplay: Alison Schroeder & Theodore Melfi
Enjoy the trailer