Plot: The story of a team of female African-American mathematicians who served a vital role in NASA during the early years of the U.S. space program.
Focusing on the trio of female scientists Katherine Jackson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson at Nasa in the sixties, Hidden Figures plays a vital role in educating the world about the stories of the repressed who rose to great heights while fighting unimaginable odds. The three ladies each had incredible aptitude for their work. Katherine Jackson was so accurate in her calculations her work was better than a computer. Dorothy Vaughan taught herself a computer language when computers were a foreign and scary concept. She became the first black female supervisor at Nasa. Mary Jackson fought for her right to become an engineer, and was the first black mathematician and engineer in the NACA, which would become NASA in 1958.
Actresses Taraji P Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe shine in their roles, and their fast talking, quick thinking, superbly dressed and outrageously talented selves kept me glued to the screen for the duration of the film. It is impossible to decide who gave the best performance. Octavia Spencer is one of my favorite actresses in Hollywood and seeing her as a determined genius of a woman is already a reflection of herself, it is just the career that differs in her portrayal of Dorothy Vaughan. Janelle Monáe gave me endless happiness with her attitude and her resilience to get what she wanted. Taraji P Henson delivers a demure and dedicated performance as Katherine Jackson, a woman so excellent in her profession she was more accurate than the computers so painstakingly installed by NASA. Katherine had to face inconceivable barriers in her job – not only was she black, she was a woman as well when those two categories were still fighting for rights back in the sixties. She faces uphill battles – the sexism and racism of her colleagues, finding a bathroom – this battle of hers had me the most outraged as it is an inhumanity I have never even been able to comprehend. She does this with grace and poise and so rarely loses her shit I marked her as a saint.
Kirsten Dunst is the white supervisor to Spencer’s Dorothy. Her racism isn’t deliberate or particularly spiteful;but it is so ingrained and habitual that it somehow offends more than the blatant racism Katherine faces. There is some saving for Dunst’s character, and I particularly appreciated the scene where she addresses Dorothy as “Mrs. Vaughan” – a courtesy that was long overdue.
Strong male performances by Kevin Costner as the gruff and motivated Al Harrison – a man portrayed as open eyed and realizing that science and math doesn’t have a skin color. Jim Parsons takes on the role of the close minded bigot Paul Stafford, although I got the impression that the character had bigger problems with Katherine’s gender and the fact that she was a better mathematician than he than her skin color, but even despite that Stafford was a mean and rude man who needed a kick under the ass. Mahershala Ali plays Katherine’s love interest and eventual husband Jim Johnson – he’s so charming and dignified I nearly fainted. Aldis Hidge (Levi Jackson) is a contrast to the calm Jim emits – his anger is raw and justified against the government who denies him and his family the rights so easily afforded to white people. Glen Powell as John Glenn was so incredibly charming and beautiful, and I rooted for him immediately when he chose to greet everyone at NASA, not only the white people.
Hidden Figures is well written, warmhearted and satisfactory conclusive. Each woman gets what she needs – a promotion, extra education or the incredible right to work as part of the team who would put a man on the Moon. It might be a bit blasé in some parts – Kevin Costner hitting down the signs on the bathrooms and declaring that everyone can urinate where they want was slightly overdramatic, but the sentiment was good.
Another part of the film that I liked was the orbiting into space – it felt real somehow, the hard work, frustration and endless dedication of NASA to get men into space. It is so impressive when you think about that they didn’t have the knowledge NASA now has, they’d never done it before. They were working without computers and relied on human accuracy to attempt something that hadn’t been done before. It is impressive and inspiring.
Hidden Figures filled me with awe, respect and also a great deal of shame. I’ve never had to work as hard as these characters to be accepted in to society, I’ve never had to run to another bathroom because of my skin color, I’ve never been denied tertiary education or a promotion because of a thing I can’t do a thing to change. Systematic oppression is a real thing and I’ve often thought about it lately – society has come a long way in making sure everybody has rights, but are we still subconsciously treating people different when they don’t look exactly as we do? It’s something to consistently address until the last dregs of oppression dies away.
Hidden Figures was not only about skin color, it was about female empowerment, the power of education, the perseverance of the human spirit and about how giving up should never be an option. Excellent performances make this film an entertaining and wonderful watch, and if you haven’t done so yet, I would strongly suggest you rectify that matter.