Movie Review: Hidden Figures
Directed by Theodore Melfi and based on the book by Margot Lee Shetterly, “Hidden Figures” is a remarkable story about three African-American women who worked at NASA in the age of space race as the ‘human computers‘ and their significant contributions to the program. While it tells a weighty story, it is filmed with a lighthearted tone and has a breezy pace.
Katherine Goble Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae) are colleagues and friends at a segregated research center. They ride to work together, socialize and bond over the reality of life in the 60s as women of color.
Denied promotion, Dorothy performs the work of a supervisor without the title or the pay. Mary has the brain of an engineer and prerequisite education but isn’t able to enroll in an engineering program at the university. Katherine, a genius mathematician assigned to the Space Task Group is placed as the bottom of the totem pole. Simply because of their color and gender. No matter how brilliant their minds are, they are required to be subservient and are undermined at every turn.
Racism and sexism permeate every fabric of the severely prejudiced society. Not only relegated to the back of the bus, there are ‘colored’ sections for everything – work area, restroom, cafetaria, even a separate coffee thermos. It’s an eye-opener for the younger generations who didn’t live through that disturbing era.
Memorable scenes pack emotional and inspirational punch, powered by great acting. Dorothy has to sneak a programming book out of a white-only library because it’s not available in her designated library. Mary has to petition the court and summon the courage to speak to the judge for a chance to be able to take the requisite engineering classes held in a white-only high school. Katherine’s outburst from being questioned in the open about her work ethic because she disappears for a long period of time during work hours (she has to walk a half mile each time and back to go to the colored ladies room in another building).
Katherine in particular directly helps calculate trajectories of space launch and landing. Some portions of the film deal with number crunching, mathematical equations and later on the dawn of mainframe computers. Even though the end result is widely known, Colonel John Glenn’s (Glenn Powell) historical orbit trip, both pre-launch and post-flight efforts to bring him back to Earth safely, bring suspenseful moments. Too soon of an entry point, he would burn upon re-entry. Too late, he will be further away from the Earth gravity and would never be able to return home.
These empowered women march on every day with dedication, diligence, persistence, resilience and determination. It’s a fine balance between knowing their place, stepping further back and showing clear deference to their peers and supervisors (Kevin Costner, Jim Parsons, Kirsten Dunst), and at the same time, being resourceful, assertive and confident in themselves in seizing opportunities, moving towards achieving their dreams, and being a part of history.
And if history has taught us anything, there’s always a first in everything. It’s wonderful to see that these pioneers are no longer hidden. One of the best films of the year, “Hidden Figures” is phenomenally uplifting and life-affirming.
Copyright (c) 2017. Nathalia Aryani.