Whilst America fights against Russia in its space-esque arms race, NASA stumbles across unclaimed talent in three black American mathematicians, three individuals who were a considerable force in one of the greatest feats in American history. Based on the true story, penned by Margot Lee Shetterly, Hidden Figures follows three women who quickly rose through NASA’s ranks specifically tasked with calculating John Glenn launch trajectories, and making sure he does not die on reentry.
Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer), Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) and Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson) broke the barriers of gender and race, crossing professional lines by showing their quality time and time again with their aptitude to dream big beyond anything ever accomplished by humanity. Subsequently, they were made American heroes in the process. History remembers them and allowed them to reach for the stars.
“Three negro women are chasing a white police officer down a highway in 1961. That is a god-ordained miracle” says Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) and subsequently earning her status as the Queen of Sass. Having followed her music career, I was curious to see if she’d be another one of those musicians who thinks they’re “god-ordained” actor, or if she’s a musician who can actually act. I’m glad to say it was the latter, as she brings some of that enthusiasm from her animated stage performances onto the screen. “How can you be ogling these white men?” Katherine says to Mary, to which Mary replies “Miss equal rights I have the right to some fine in every colour.” With Jackson’s episodic one-liners , Hidden Figures is a civil rights drama, but feel-good as well, a rare thing in this genre.
This is a film everyone needs to see. Black or white; man or woman; adult or child; it doesn’t matter. It follows three black women trying to live amidst segregation, following in the footsteps of those who have contributed to black culture and success. Whether its in sport or in politics or in science to name a few, when black people succeed on the world stage, it’s dazzling. Often the trendsetters in music, it’s refreshing to see a movie about black scientists, a depiction I’ve never seen on screen before. It’s drama, social criticism, comedy, political commentary and a good representation of oppression in the workplace, not only for black people but for women as well. “Every time we have a chance to get ahead they move the finish line” says Mary Jackson.
The cast is outstanding, with Katherine (Henson) running to the coloured bathroom every few scenes since its half a mile away. An activity is discussed in the film, resulting in colourblind Al Harrison (Kevin Costner) banning coloured bathrooms, as he sees no reason why everybody can’t pee and shit together. The cinematography is polished and gleaming, with a soundtrack to kill, including Pharrell Williams’ Run, an apt track for Katherine Johnson’s toilet breaks. Hidden Figures is worthy of its best picture nomination. It’s dream-like with the correct pallet of colours and light, a thing of beauty.
This film puts intelligence on exhibition, and that goes beyond gender and race. When it comes down to it, we are all human, and Costner (Man Of Steel) shows that his tolerance for all types of people as the boss Al Harrison. In contrast, Paul Stafford (Jim Parsons) is the thorn on a rose bush. He goes out of his way to block Katherine. I believe not only because she was black but female as well, yet he does mellow down later on in the film when he sees that she’s basically a genius. His pride has been hurt but he must respect good math. Basically, he’s play Sheldon Cooper in the 1960s.
This is a story that might just spark your inner-nerd. The Holy Trinity, Spencer (The Help), Monae (Moonlight) and Henson (Empire) are dazzling. Costner is an embodiment of tolerance, free from making value judgements on people before they’ve made an effort to prove themselves. This movie deserves a 10/10 in almost everything, including its avant-garde approach to a civil rights drama with its fantastic use of style, content and strength in its protagonists. It wasn’t depressing in the slightest, as many are. I left the movie screening feeling good yet intellectually stimulated with not a single hint of sadness. Also, we are witness to Mahershala Ali (Moonlight), who plays Col. Jim Johnson. This guy seems to be in everything lately.
In typical Civil Rights/slavery drama fashion, we always need our token white villain(s). We had these in the form of Paul Stafford, played by Jim Parson (The Big Bang Theory) and Vivian Mitchell, played by Kirsten Dunst (Fargo). They gave great performances, but at times I felt they were caricatures rather than actual characters. They weren’t there to add anything to the narrative but because they had to be. You can’t have a Civil Rights era-set drama without an evil white villain, which can be compared to the rivalries one sees in mob movies involving the different races, like the Italian-Irish feuds in Black Mass.
We need more films of this calibre. With excellent performances and an intelligent script, Hidden Figures is a must see and is now showing in cinemas worldwide.