Hidden Figures is the incredibly important true story of three African-American women working at NASA in the 1960's. These three women were crucial to the U.S 1962 launch which would send Astronaut John Glenn into orbit, an event which turned the tide of the Space Race.
Katherine G. Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae) are the three women at the centre of Hidden Figures. All are entertaining and fleshed out characters backed up by strong, emotional and riveting performances.
The story of Hidden Figures is a largely unknown one, only now are these three magnificent women receiving the praise and respect they deserve for the tremendous work they did. Despite being such a powerful and important story of underappreciated women, Hidden Figures never beats you over the head with the seriousness of it all, there are some very well earned dramatic beats but for the most part, this is a light, schmaltzy and fun film.
There's a real entertainment value watching someone doing a job they're good at, it's why we love heist movies for example. Katherine G. Johnson was a remarkable mathematician, so much more so than her white, male co-workers. Dorothy Vaughan figured out how to operate the IBM machine faster than the people assigned to work on it and Mary Jackson was a terrific engineer. Seeing these women work in their own individual areas and progressing in said areas was entertaining but also incredibly moving. Their work was vital to the success of the 1962 launch, an event which in turn put the U.S in the advantage of getting to the moon before Russia.
Hidden Figures takes place in Virginia, a still segregated area in the 60's. Separate bathrooms for whites and coloured individuals were still a thing and it's still a heart wrenching reality, even though we've made real progress overcoming such prejudice since that time. What's so admirable about this film is that it does make you aware of these issues, but it never bogs you down with the harsh reality of it all, it's always pointed out to inform character, story and setting.
Racism in that time and place was systemic, it was a part of everyday life and whilst that is an impossibly harsh reality, it is reality and Hidden Figures portrays it as so. What's also an achievement is that the film doesn't paint every white character with the same brush. Of course there are those with prejudice in their hearts but there's also characters like Al Harrison (Kevin Costner), Katherine's boss who couldn't care less about the colour of one's skin, only that they do the work they're asked to do.
The performances of Hidden Figures are really what I'll come away from this film remembering. Taraji P. Henson (Empire) really blew me away and there a couple of scenes where she's really allowed to act. The supporting cast are also terrific, Mahershala Ali (Moonlight), Kevin Costner (Man of Steel), Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory) and Kirsten Dunst (Midnight Special) are also all fantastic in their roles. All of this stems from such powerful direction by Ted Melfi (St. Vincent), he excellently balances tone, develops character and respectfully tells a truly important and relatively unknown story.
Sure, this is predictably feelgood and charmingly hokey, but it all works. There wasn't a single moment whether it be with drama or comedy where I felt like the tone was off and the script was pandering. Hidden Figures is an empowering, important and endlessly entertaining true story that I cannot recommend highly enough.
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