Hidden Figures tells the remarkable true story of Katherine G. Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae) – three brilliant African-American mathematicians who work at NASA. Together, they provided NASA with some of the most important calculations for the United States’ space program. At the height of the Cold War, they managed to turn the Space Race around by sending John Glenn into orbit, which proved to be the stepping stone for greater things to come in the Space Race – to send man to the Moon.
The trio of African-American scientists have a wealth of synergy whenever they are together on screen and I’d mistaken them for sisters or best friends if I weren’t told they were colleagues. Along with the likes of Mahershala Ali and Kirsten Dunst, they form quite possibly the best ensemble cast of 2016. Hidden Figures is also perfectly sound when it comes to the storytelling as it unravels the extraordinary space race arcs of our three protagonists systematically while having a lovely blend of social commentary.
In a world where more than two genders exist, where the idea of racial privilege is constantly debated and where virtually every topic worth debating is considered offensive, Hidden Figures doesn’t excessively preach on the real world issues it organically sets out to be. It gives you the creative freedom to form your own thoughts (which will be politically correct) about the ongoing prejudice by the way people of colour are treated in the film. And even that was extremely rooted to what the actual people had to face during JFK’s tenure – an era of separate, filthy toilets for black people and different coffee jugs to dispense from because white people were too afraid of getting their bodies contaminated by the DNA of Negros. That is just the tip of the iceberg of the abuse they had to adhere to and Hidden Figures wasn’t afraid to depict it accurately.
Observing how the women combatted the racism and xenophobia was probably the best part about Hidden Figures. Taking the fight out on to the streets by participating in protests for equality was not on any one of the woman’s agenda. Instead they continued to work hard and excel at what they knew they were good at; maths, computers and engineering. They made extraordinary contributions towards the cause everyone was working on and that was the tipping point in making people believe in them. Ultimately, it gave them the uncanny ability during the time to prove their doubters wrong. What they did wrote the American history books of today and this is empowering not only for people of colour but also for any minority group out there – that little things can lead to big differences, it doesn’t always have to be loud and outspoken. Silence can sometimes be the most powerful scream.
Which reminds me, the hindrance of the inconveniently situated bathrooms for coloured people becomes kind of a running joke in the film because of Katherine’s antics in the scenes. But it is agonizing for her since the nearest toilet to her office is just a few metres away. Just that she isn’t permitted to use it. So when the director of the space program, Al Harrison (Kevin Costner) finally demands to know why she is missing every time he tries to look for her, all the pent up frustration Katherine has inside of her culminates into a singular powerful scene, brilliantly executed by Taraji P. Henson. I can say for sure that it is her most sublime piece of cinema she has ever produced yet.
The recurring theme with most ‘Oscar’ films one is one which you will only appreciate more after you leave the theatre. Seeing how the world (or USA) is so set in tearing itself apart, Hidden Figures matches with the theme perfectly. Desperate times calls for desperate measures and I won’t be the least bit shocked if the Academy tips Hidden Figures to win the Best picture award, just for the sense of hope and optimism the film embodies which will hopefully carry over to the American public – that civil rights and social justice is still alive and kicking in spite of the anarchy Trump is wreaking.
Should you spend money on it? Yes
Directed by: Theodore Melfi
Screenplay by: Theodore Melfi, Allison Schroeder
Based on: Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly
Starring: Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae, Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst, Jim Parsons
Running time: 127 minutes