Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe), are more intelligent as children than most. But sadly, they have the wrong skin color for America of the 1960s, so educational opportunities aren’t as readily available to them as to most. And luckily for all of us, they don’t let it stop them.
“HIDDEN FIGURES” – written & directed by Theodore Melfi, is based on the true events of these three women’s accomplishments of beating the odds in a time when those odds were almost insurmountable. Although all three are working at NASA, they are widely under-ultilized, stuck in a mundane employee-temp circle with other African-American women. It is only when the ‘space-race’ heats up and NASA is concerned with the fact that Russia might beat us to manned space travel that they even get considered and their abilities are brought to light. But it is still a long journey to get from the temp pool to the point of where now-famed astronaut John Glenn (Glen Powell) had her double-check the numbers against a ‘new’ computer machine before his now-legendary orbit around the earth.
The film does do well in summarizing the story and making the period of the early 60’s space-race look exciting. Melfi succeeds in revealing the perspective of the people who made it possible for a human being to be brought into an orbit were chiefly physicists and, above all, mathematicians. Making it truly special is the fact that three of these essential figures were not only women, but African-American women. In a time where different races were still strictly separated in everything from the bathrooms, to yes, even the coffee pot and how they had to fight not only to assert themselves into the circles of white, male-dominated NASA, but also with the colour of their skin.
In addition, we have a decent supporting cast with Kirsten Dunst as Vivian Mitchell, head of the white secretarial pool and chief scientist, Al Harrison (Kevin Costner), who while blind to all the bias at first, gradually begins to notice Johnson’s intelligence and how she is being treated by her white, male co-workers and steps up to the plate. Jim Parsons, Mahershala Ali, Aldis Hodge, Olek Krupa just to name a few, are great additions to the supporting cast.
Performances are all above par here and not being Costner’s biggest fan, he comes off very well here in one of what is surely one of his more likeable performances. Hands down winner for me though is Octavia Spencer, who not only steals the show, along with hopefully not only a nomination, but a win from this performance.
Finally, do I think some liberties might have been taken here with the story-line or some of the characters, most likely, and it’s in these spots that the film lags, but it is also very simple to just look up history and see this is accurate in the frame of what these women did at/for NASA and what they went on to do in leading the way for so many to follow is even more impressive.
HIDDEN FIGURES is emotionally stirring cinema and should leave a lasting impression on viewers.
Media Review Screening: Monday, November 21, 2016 ~ Courtesy of 20th Century Fox
In Limited Release: Sunday, December 25, 2016
NATIONWIDE RELEASE: Friday, January 6, 2017