Hidden Figures | Or the persistence of biases when greater goals are on the horizon

Loosely based on the non-fiction book “Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race” by Margot Lee Shetterly. This biographical drama is directed by Theodore Melfi, stars Taraji P. Henson (Benjamin Button), Janelle Monae (Moonlight), and Octavia Spencer (The Help) as the leads.

Premise: As the United States raced against Russia to put a man in space, NASA found untapped talent in a group of African-American female mathematicians that served as the brains behind one of the greatest operations in U.S. history. The untold true life stories of three of these women, known as “human computers”, we follow these women as they quickly rose the ranks of NASA alongside many of history’s greatest minds specifically tasked with calculating the momentous launch of astronaut John Glenn into orbit, and guaranteeing his safe return. Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer), Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae), and Katherine Gobels Johnson (Taraji P. Henson) crossed all gender, race, and professional lines while their brilliance and desire to dream big, beyond anything ever accomplished before by the human race, firmly cemented them in U.S. history as true American heroes.

Review: At first glance this film sounds like a civil right’s movie, by this I mean, it can seem like it’s a movie solely about race and discrimination. These two topics are reason enough to see a well mode movie but Hidden Figures is much more than that.

It’s actually a fascinating work-place drama set in the early days of the space race. It’s a more grounded depiction of that time in history because usually movies about the space race are about the achievement itself, the rocket taking off with the wife or girlfriend with a tear in her eye. Little to no mind giving to the grind, the trial and error, and the tense conditions they were working in at a time when technology wasn’t as evolved as it is today.

This movie is clearly dramatized, it’s not a documentary, but there is a lot to learn here. I had no idea that they were people, women, who’s job was to do complex math. The surprising thing is not that women were doing math – well giving the time period it kind of is. It’s the the inner workings of N.A.S.A.

The sheer importance and scale of the whole opperation is not lost on the viewer, they make sure of that. Which makes it is all the more mind-boggling that given the importance of what they were trying to achieve that they had time to discriminate. I know that racism and discrimination is systemic, particularly, in this era but come the F’k on how was it not a meritocracy?

I could stress on that point for so long but that would be like shouting at the wind at this point. Don’t get it wrong, the biaises are not just based on race but on women in general, there’s a clear hierachy of discrimination showed in this film but the silver lining though, is that these women are also depicted striving for more, overcoming obsticles, leading the way.

The cast is quite big and yet memorable, they all make an impression. I saw this movie when it came out in 2016 and even before rewatching it – because it’s worth repeat viewings – I could list the cast by name or remember faces, if not the names. It’s a testament to the level of talent there’s in this film. The smallest roles have space to shine and the actors knew how to seize their opportunities.

Henson is front and center in this movie and yet Spencer and Monae are true stand outs. Kristen Dunst, opperates masterfully in a grey area as both an “oppressed” and pottential oppressor, Glen Powell is charismatic and a source of hope, and Kevin Costner does a fabulous job but Seth Meyer’s sketch does sour a bit aspects of his character.

Hidden Figures is a compelling learning experience that will hit you in the feels and worth the viewings.


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