Hidden Figures, adapted from a nonfiction book of the same name by Margot Lee Shetterly, is truly one of the most inspiring stories of all time…and space.
The Space Race started nearly 60 years ago, and America was determined to emerge as the international victor. NASA employed the best and the brightest in the country, including Dorothy Vaughn, Mary Jackson and Katherine Johnson. These accomplished mathematicians are simply called “computers” and work in a separate building despite segregration being officially unconstitutional at the time.
Dorothy (Academy Award winner Octavia Spencer) has been doing the work of a supervisor without the pay or the title of one for years but can’t seem to get more than a bored sneer from her Darth Becky boss (an infuriatingly convincing Kirsten Dunst). Mary (actor/musician Janelle Monae) faces roadblocks to career advancement from her husband, NASA and the Commonwealth of Virginia and has to petition a judge to get permission to take classes at an all-White school. The film spends most of its time on Katherine (the ridiculously versatile Taraji P. Henson), an unassuming genius mistaken for a janitor on her first day in the Space Task Group. She proceeds to mop the floor with her jealous colleague (Jim Parsons…he’s basically a more sexist and racist Sheldon Cooper), correcting mistakes in his geometry and gaining the trust of her boss and Mr. John Glenn himself.
The timing of this film’s release is just as remarkable as its subjects. John Glenn’s recent passing has NASA’s triumphs in the forefronts of our minds. Backwards anti-science stances are increasing the buzz around STEM and facts in general. Our relationship with Russia is in the news as much as it was in the 50s. And the struggles of women in the workplace continue to slow our nation’s progress. We’re also just a few weeks away from the start of Black History Month, a time when African-American notables are celebrated instead of ignored in favor of “heroes” like George Washington and Christopher Columbus. It is also a time when White Privilege-denying #AllLivesMatter ostriches inflate their necks over the imaginary bigotry inherent in a month dedicated to Black people and their achievements. “Why do THEY need a whole month?”
THEY had to deal with whatever injustice was in vogue during their era while trying to accomplish something. THEY served their country while it openly hated them. THEY have names which have been omitted from textbooks, journals and articles. We need Black History Month just as much as we need films and books like Hidden Figures to bring these amazing stories out of the shadows.
Everyone needs to see this movie. Got goals? You will be super motivated to reach for the stars after seeing these brilliant minds achieve the unthinkable. Feminist? I dare you not to cheer as the leading ladies respond to the outrageous, villainous mansplaining. Love America? This is another shining example of our country’s ability to create and innovate even when doing all it can to stifle itself. It’s a feel-good go-getter of a film that the whole family can enjoy and more importantly, learn from.
Final Grade: A