“Hidden Figures” tells the real-life story of a trio of legendary African-American mathematicians– Katherine Goble Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer), and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe), three of the smartest heads in 1960s America. Their story unfolds in an age where the ‘separate but equal’ doctrine made just about anything in black women’s lives more difficult than it was for their white female equivalents or even African American males. It was at a time when overt racism was legitimized every day and segregation, inequality, and a lack of opportunity dominated American culture for black men and women everywhere.
Despite these challenges, Katherine, Dorothy and Mary are three fierce, strong women working for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Their characters overshadow the discrimination and inequalities they face. The humor and bravery with which they encounter these issues is inspiring to view.
Working as human computers, the protagonists fulfill indispensable calculations that ultimately allow NASA to send a man into space. The mission’s urgency, due to the competition with the Soviet Union, deciding who will be first outside of the Earth’s atmosphere, as well as the hostile working environments, give the movie its drive.
This hurried pace is balanced out with detailed scenes of the women’s relationships with one other, their families and their partners. It is traditional images in almost cliche scenes that warm audiences’ hearts. There is nothing not to love about this movie though– how often does one get the chance to follow the everyday joys of these forgotten human computers and engineers of NASA’s past, let alone African American women? It is particularly these instances that remind the audience of the warmth of their own happy moments– perhaps shared with family, friends and partners in their own lives.
“Hidden Figures” also gives a snapshot of the Civil Rights Movement happening in and outside of NASA’s bubble. Al Harrison (Kevin Costner), the boss of the Space Task Group, in an awkwardly funny, but extremely dramatic and serious scene, proclaims, “Here at NASA everyone pees the same color!” It is a moment that shows us that it is the small things in life, and one person that has the courage to stand up, can bring about change. This film reveals that it takes interaction and exposure between different groups to overcome social hurdles such as racism and sexism.
This film is also one of the first to celebrate women that have remained silent, hidden and unnoticed until today. With it comes some fresh air in the film industry, after a bitter #OscarsSoWhite Campaign last year. This is what celebrating American History looks like. It is a reminder that although black women continue to disproportionately struggle today, they are powerful, fierce and deserve the achievement of just about any goal they might map out for themselves. And, it is what happens when we admit the ugly and not-so-nice truths (slavery and apartheid) of the past and present, allowing the creation of something tremendously beautiful today.
Running time: 127 minutes
Now playing in theaters