Every time we get a chance to get ahead they move the finish line. Every time.
Hidden Figures, directed and co-authored by Theodore Melfi (St. Vincent) about a team of African American women who helped do the mathematical work on NASA’s early space missions in 1961, is not only a really fun movie, but feels like a truly vital one as well.
Based on a true story, Hidden Figures was adapted from the best-selling book by Margot Lee Shetterly. Katherine Goble (Taraji Henson of Person of Interest and Empire), Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer of The Help, and Fruitvale Station), and Mary Jackson (recording artist and big screen newcomer Janelle Monae), were three ‘human computers’ and some of the best minds at NASA. They also all happen to be women of color which relegates them to second class status and segregated bathrooms. (A running theme, is that Katherine, after being assigned to the main task force, has to keep running all the way across the NASA compound to use the colored women’s restroom several times a day.) Besides such indignities and unequal treatment they’re also faced with the fact that the incoming IBM computer station threatens to make their jobs obsolete. At the same time Goble, Vaughn, and Jackson help make history by sending John Glenn into orbit, they were also crossing lines pertaining to race and gender as well. While the story of the former was well publicized, the story of the latter has been unknown until now.
Katherine G. Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), stands out amid her team of fellow mathematicians that helped send into orbit John Glenn.
It’s an expertly written and directed movie. Melfi may have been something of an unknown before, but based on this we can expect good things from him in the future as well. The casting is uniformly excellent. Kevin Costner as composite character Al Harrison plays the gruff, well meaning supervisor to a tee. Kirsten Dunst’s icy persona works in her favor for a change in the role of Vivian Mitchell, the white female supervisor who, while not an open emblem of bigotry, represents a subtler more insidious form of prejudice – indifference to obvious injustice. Janelle Monae is dynamic and sexy onscreen and Octavia Spencer as born leader and programming genius Dorothy Vaughn well deserves her Oscar nomination. However, it’s notable that Taraji P. Henson as lead character Katherine Goble nee Johnson is the movie’s heart and soul and notably was not nominated despite a performance that practically screams for Academy recognition. No offense to Meryl Streep, but Taraji’s work this year was clearly more deserving and this seems, like so much of the movie itself, to be another instance of a black woman not getting her due.
Photo Credit: Hopper Stone courtesy of 20th Century Fox