Hidden Figures – Film Review
Cast: Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe, Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst, Jim Parsons
Director: Theodore Melfi
Synopsis: Telling the true story of three African American women who during the 1960s Space Race made ground-breaking strides to provide NASA with vital data critical to the US Space Program.
Review: In the 1960s, while the Space Race between the United States of America and the USSR was becoming fiercely competitive, it was almost unheard of for a woman to take a front and centre role in the pioneering and creative work that was going on at NASA, never mind an African American woman. Division and segregation was still very strong in these times, there was very little mixing. Which makes the achievements of three women in particular, who worked on NASA’s program in the sixties, so incredibly remarkable and ground-breaking, in every sense of the word.
These three women in question, Katherine G. Johnson (Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Monáe) start out working in the segregated West Area Computers division of Langley Research Center, and in a divided country, there was never any expectation for them to be in real positions of power, where they could make a real difference. Before long however, due to their extraordinary talents, they begin to make waves. Soon enough, all three make their contributions to the US Space program and thanks to their pioneering work, the missions that followed in the sixties were made that much more attainable thanks to these extraordinary women, and for a long time, they certainly were hidden figures of history.
However, the incredible story of these women is now getting the recognition it absolutely merits thanks to director Theodore Melfi, who co-wrote the screenplay along with Allison Schroeder. The script manages to strike a perfect balance of really serious and dramatic moments, mixed in with plenty of rather brilliant humour. These women do have just about every obstacle thrown in their path that they could, from a society that really frowned upon black people sharing just about anything with white people. There’s no violence and brutality to be found (though that certainly existed) the story merely focuses on the obstacles these women faced, and how they defied the expectations society placed on them.
The acting from all three leading women is simply tremendous, and all three could very well land Oscar nominations. Their chemistry is excellent and you really feel for each of them whenever their work is restricted or impeded by their mostly white and mostly male colleagues. But by far and away, the leading light is Taraji P Henson’s Katherine who is called up to work as part of an integral mission for NASA, due to her extraordinary mathematical ability. Her story is certainly more of the main focus, but it does not detract from other two ladies, as their story lines weave together, as they strive to not only help NASA, but break the stereotypes that were placed upon women in their position.
Where the story errs a bit is in the telling of the private lives of the women, which although important as it gives them character depth and ensures that the audience is able to understand their characters and bond with them more, does detract from the story a bit. It’s not overbearing, but you might perhaps wish to see more of their work at NASA. Also the movie does try to explain a lot of the mathematics but unless you’re a mathematics genius, it is more than likely to fly straight over your head like a rocket.
The Space Race of the 1960s is an era known to many. Yet the story of these remarkable women is one you probably didn’t know, but you really should, as it sheds light on a very important story that needs to be seen by everyone. Hopefully with this film, these women will no longer be the hidden figures of history that they have arguably been for a great many decades now.