“Hidden Figures” continues the hot Hollywood trend of basing feature films on real stories. It’s a tale of incredible courage and determination that has such a powerful message about the pure absurdity of racism that this movie should be mandatory viewing for every man, woman and child.
Director Theodore Malfi manages to make his points about social injustice with such a steady approach that the significance lands early and continues to grow long after the closing credits.
“Hidden Figures” unfolds during the early stages of America’s space race. One vital part of all the planning and calculations that go into the project is done by a group of black woman known as human computers. They are doing work as important as anyone on the project, but the oppressions of the early 1960s means that the women are treated with as much respect as a calculator.
That changes when Katherine G. Johnson (Taraji P. Henson) is called in to be the computer for the brain trust under the guidance of NASA boss Al Harrison (Kevin Costner). Her role grows from just checking the work of others to providing calculations that are used in the early space flights.
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Johnson’s mathematical brilliance is no help with the real world. She’s forced to drink out of a separate coffee pot and the only bathroom she’s allowed to use is blocks away.
“Hidden Figures” also follows Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer), a natural born leader who unofficially has been in charge of the group of woman. Despite her outstanding work, Vaughn can not get a promotion. When she sees that NASA is bringing in actual computers, Vaughn teaches herself how to code the material to be input into the machines.
And, then there is Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae), who is denied a chance to become an engineer because the classes she needs to take are being given at a segregated school. She must take legal action to find a way to take the classes.
Melfi makes these woman three-dimensional by mixing in their personal lives. The moments with family, friends and potential new lovers give the movie a nice balance.
The story of how these three women excel despite all of the barriers sends a powerful message to anyone who has faced seeds of doubt. It’s particularly a strong story for young women.
Even more important is the spotlight thrown on racism. These woman found success but the film is a reminder of how much talent was lost because of racist thinking. And, that idea is sparked instead of being driven home with the kind of velocity that tends to make people step out of the way rather than absorb it.
The three women and Costner turn in superb performances and screen writers Allison Schroeder and Melfi have put together a story that beautifully blends the professional and personal parts. There‘s even an action element with the space race.
The majority of movies based on real stories tend to focus on heroic events and “Hidden Figures” is no different. Where it stands out is that the courage shown in the film takes on a much larger importance.