When given the space to work, we are capable of incredible things. So how is it that skin and gender are still considered barriers to greatness?
Hidden Figures (2016)
Cast: Taraji P. Hensen, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae, Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst, Jim Parsons, Mahershala Ali, Aldis Hodge, Glen Powell
Director: Theodore Melfi
re-released on blu-ray April 11, 2017
Rotten Tomatoes: 93%, Audience Score 93%
The Guardian: ****/*****
Theodore Melfi is an American director, producer, and writer of whom I could dig up very little information on. Melfi has only recently stepped up into the role of director, with the Billy Murray film St. Vincent being his first time at the helm, and Hidden Figures as his second outing.
Luckily for us, his involvement with the film industry has been a fairly measured one, which began in 1998, on a whim, by helping raise money for the film Park Day. So humble and full of admiration for this story is Mefli that he turned down the opportunity to direct Spider-Man: Homecoming over Hidden Figures…which blows me away, personally.
That mentioned, what follows is a very brief overview of the film, and to give a sense of how it unfolds.
Set in 1960s America, and taking place near Cape Canaveral, we watch the stories of mathematician Katherine C. Johnson (Taraji P. Hensen) (formerly Goble), engineer Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae) and computer supervisor Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) as they work for NASA during the space race to put a man into orbit around the Earth. Taking place at NASA primarily, we watch these human computers fight for equal rights as both women and minority figures on campus.
All three woman are in the midst of proving themselves to their peers, and especially outperforming many of them, much to the shock of the average NASA scientist, like lead mathematician Paul Stafford (Jim Parsons), head supervisor Vivian Mitchell (Kirsten Dunst) and floor director Al Harrison (Kevin Costner), though Harrison is not portrayed with prejudice, only as stern in his approach to success.
We also see into these women’s lives and watch them address family matters and challenges associated with romantic relationships. For instance, Goble eventually enters into a romantic relationships with the recently returned Colonel Jim Johnson (Mahershala Ali), who initially repels her with an ill-made comment about women and mathematics.
Based on true stories surrounding these three legendary women who helped John Glenn (Glen Powell) up until his launch date, Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, and Katherine Johnson truly are well deserved pillars for any of us who struggle with gender, race, and professional boundaries but have a desire to to bring something good into the world.
A familiar story of triumph over adversity, Hidden Figures offers a unique slant in the tone being set with the content and the performances that drive the action forward. All three arcs work well together, with a little more time being spent on the growth of Katherine Johnson and her supporting cast-mates. It never holds your hand on the issues of the day, but instead faces them indirectly so that you can might better glide through a key moment in history.
Yes, it is incredibly heart-warming and very much an easy to digest movie, but the fact that it is able to look at crucial women in the history of NASA without pandering too heavily to us, is a very odd thing to experience.
Pros: An uncomplicated story which gives some well merited screen time to people that did great things for humanity. It also does well to elevate the profiles of Hensen, Spencer and Monae; with Monae stealing the show every turn she gets.
Cons: I can’t help but wonder if a story about great people deserves greater treatment for its characters and more details coming through each scene… And if it has any real staying power in coming years.
Runtime: 2 hours 7 minutes
Points of Interest: The coffee brand used in Katherine’s work area is significant, it was Chock Full o’Nuts, which was one of the first corporations to hire a black executive at a VP level. The man Chock Full o’Nuts hired was retired baseball legend Jackie Robinson, the first person to break the color barrier in professional baseball. Also, the set used for Dorothy Vaughan’s house is actually an historic house in Atlanta, where civil rights pioneers Ralph Abernathy and Martin Luther King met.
Hidden figures manages to entertain and showcase great performances from its three leads, but I have to wonder if the feel-good angle was the right way to to go with this story.
Overall, Hidden Figures is an excellent film from an entertainment perspective and does great work in highlighting the efforts of those black women who made major contributions to the space race happening during the Cold War. Odd that echoes technological advancement and racism throughout it’s story in a time when that is exactly what we seem to be experiencing a lot of of.
And man do I ever wish that was only a theory, but we really do need to be vigilant in the face of these injustices.