In Reviews

January 4th, 2017




I didn’t know anything about the three women in Hidden Figures. In 1969, when NASA was trying to send a man to the moon, it was Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson that made it happen. That part of the story was never in my high school history books. Even if we assume I wasn’t paying attention, which I might not have, when it comes to the history of space exploration, that praise has only gone to white men. Hidden Figures finally gives these three women the justice they deserve, in this well acted and crowd pleasing discovery.

Director Theodore Melfi, as he did in his 2014 film- St. Vincent, has a knack for making movies which highlight the triumphs of those who are being kicked down by others. We see our three leading ladies overcoming unfair obstacles of segregation and acceptance in the workplace. The opening scene introduces Jackson (Janelle Monae), Vaughan (Oscar Winner- Octavia Spencer), and Johnson (Henson), displaying their unique characteristics while they try to fix their stalled car. The script from Melfi and Allison Schroeder (adapted from Margot Lee Shetterly’s book of the same name) never gives these characters any excuse. Their persistence is displayed in scenes where Johnson must run from one building to the next to use the segregated bathroom, or when she walks into a room of NASA men, they stare at her because she’s “not where she belongs”. Even with these roadblocks, they power through, with a determination that should inspire the masses.

For Katherine Johnson (a great performance, played with grace and wit by Taraji P. Henson) her skills at math became a key component in the U.S.’s victory in the space race vs. the Russians. Her brilliance was ahead of many others, including the likes of white males such as Paul Stafford (played by a snickering Jim Parsons) who needed his math checked by Johnson. Her boss Al Harrison, played with grizzled macho-ness that only Kevin Costner could make work, is a stressed man, whose racial biases only match with the times that surround him. When he realizes that Johnson is smarter than the others, her skin color never matters.

Meanwhile, Jackson finds every possible hoop to jump through so she can get her degree in engineering, just trying to be accepted to the best college in Virginia, and accepted amongst her peers. Monae shines in every scene she inhabits, as the singer and star from Moonlight has clearly revealed she is one of Hollywood’s rising movie stars. While this all takes place, Vaughan (Spencer, whose effortless acting is scary good) creates her own path by learning the skills of the first IBM computer and FORTRAN punch cards. She is seen as a mother figure to other black women working in the NASA basements, delivering fierce exchanges between her supervisor (Kirsten Dunst), to make sure her girls get the treatment they deserve.

It’s hard to not fall in love with Hidden Figures, it is a film that brought a large smile to my face. My main complaint is the films often crowd pleasing efforts, which come off as quite conventional, in what could have been an even more daring film of accomplishments. Either way, the trio of Henson, Spencer, and Monae is electric. Here is a movie about three black women that are not playing maids, slaves, or scorned wives. They are strong and independent, during a time when many would try to break their spirits down. These three figures may have been hidden before, now they are the brightest stars in my eyes.

3 Stars

Written by: Leo Brady

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