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Hidden Figures – Movie Review

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Hidden Figures – Movie Review

Rating: B (Good)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy 20th Century Fox

Reading up on Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, it’s surprising Hidden Figures is the first time their story has been portrayed on film. Director/co-writer Theodore Melfi has taken the crowd-pleaser approach in portraying their rise at NASA and it more than works. While it is clearly designed, with its big speeches, to gain rounds of applause from audiences, it does succeed in that regard. Aided by their strong cast, the filmmakers understand the importance of this story and this is a film sure to inspire many women and girls to want to explore science and engineering. It showcases how the world can certainly improve in the future.

Hidden Figures explores the racial divide of the 1960’s with familiar images. The segregated bathrooms play a key role in showing that even in an organisation like NASA paving the way for men to walk on the moon, there was still prejudice towards those of a different skin colour. That Kevin Costner’s Space Task Group director Al Harrison is oblivious to this through most of the film shows how this was somehow considered normal and not out of the ordinary at the time. It is inspiring to watch Johnson, Vaughan and Jackson continue to keep their head held up high and try to still keep doing their work, despite the segregation surrounding them.

The best scenes in Hidden Figures involve these three women doing their work and going through their specific arcs as they attempt to achieve the next level. Even though Johnson’s calculations are complex and likely only to be understood by math geniuses, Melfi and his co-writer Allison Schroeder are able to explore the context and give a general idea of what she and her fellow “computers” were trying to accomplish. There is a frequent ticking clock and one can feel the frustration at the math becoming outdated every hour. The tiredness of not being kept up to speed and the frequent prejudice she encounters is well portrayed by Taraji P. Henson. One scene in which she finally goes into a full-on rant about her treatment at NASA is certain to be greeted with applause by audiences. Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae are also allowed to give plenty of depth and relatability to Vaughan and Jackson, respectively.

Kevin Costner’s straight-faced style of acting fits his character well as he primarily has numbers over his head. Kristen Dunst and Jim Parsons play fairly typical archetypes from films about the racial prejudice of this era, but also manage to show that even those not saying slurs were just as likely to have prejudicial thoughts. This is also the most downplayed Parsons has been on-screen, allowing him to play somebody other than Sheldon Cooper. A romance and eventual marriage that forms between Johnson and a lieutenant may have happened in real life, but it’s something that takes time away from the main storyline and threatens to enter sappy territory.

In a way, Hidden Figures could be considered the anti-Loving. While that film worked in its subtle approach to showing the prejudice of that time period, Hidden Figures attempts for bigger moments and it works fine in that regard. While it does threaten to run a little long, Theodore Melfi shows a clear understanding of these women and their struggle. This film primarily exists as inspiration for women, African-American or otherwise, to show they can break the glass ceiling and help change the world. It’s an optimistic film with positive STEM themes and that’s certainly something our planet and the future needs.


Stefan Ellison