Perception is a dangerous thing. Sometimes, it can rob you of what really lies beneath the surface. Welcome to “Hidden Figures”; a film with purpose and swagger that informs without tiring the soul.
In 1961, three African American women helped John Glenn reach outer space. They were smarter than most and were relentless in their drive to become “the first” to do something extraordinary. Without them, space travel wouldn’t have reached its peak fast enough and the United States may have lost the race to space to Russia. Perception nearly robbed America of a monstrous leap forward and advancement in a field that few could conquer back then.
What Theodore Melfi does with this film is create as simplistic adventurous drama about the rise of three powerful women. Katherine G. Johnson(Taraji P. Henson) is the numbers whiz; someone who can figure out any mathematical equation. She could do these things at a young age, and is literally labeled “the computer” by her boss at NASA, Al Harrison(Kevin Costner, in a fine role). Dorothy Vaughan(Octavia Spencer) is the computer software expert. When IBM machines roll into NASA, she is the woman in charge. Mary Jackson(Janelle Monae) is the aerospace engineering whiz who paved the way for jobs for women at NASA and Langley.
What happens when you throw together a flight trajectory specialist, computer programming expert, and engineering expert? A man orbits in space without a hitch. This isn’t just a true story. It’s an amazing true story that is largely unknown. That is due in part because in the early 1960s, women of any race weren’t allowed to be a force in the workplace.
Women of color couldn’t even use the same bathroom as others. They couldn’t go to school with others. Segregation was a thorn in the side of many in Virginia, but these three women knocked down color barriers quickly because they served a huge purpose. In a battle to outrun Russia to put a man on the moon, the United States needed these women. It’s hard to deny the power of a feel good drama that is told blow for blow.
The actors assembled perfectly. Spencer can do more with a stare and smile than most actresses can do with a monologue. Henson is all power and drive in most of her roles, but tones it down to play Johnson, a woman who only got loud when it was right. Monae is a scene stealer with her easy working sass and ability to make dialogue fly off the screen. Costner can work in any script or film while leaving a dent, and he does well here as the man of numbers who relied on Johnson when nobody else would. Jim Parsons does good work as Paul Stafford, the man who was one-upped by Johnson’s work.
Here is a story about three women who finished second or last due to the color of their skin until their skills made it impossible to deny them. “Hidden Figures” proves that sometimes, superheroes don’t wear capes or need to fly. They wear a dress, carry a pencil and make it possible for other men to fly into space and discover the impossible.
It’s an easy going history lesson with a timely message of hope and love. In a racially torn time that we live, watching “Hidden Figures” leaves a dent. Look where it all began, and how far it has come in 55 years since this shift in the world. These women weren’t selected or voted to do their job. They were simply better than anyone else. They proved that looks aren’t everything, worth is overrated and a skill is valuable in any room.
If you don’t like watching warriors battle in a galaxy far far away, take a trip back to the 1960’s and the real birth of the space program. Before Neil Armstrong could walk on the moon or the first Apollo mission launched, a few sharp women had to make sure it was safe to fly up there.
“Hidden Figures” takes you back in time, entertains you and teaches you a lesson. Go buy a ticket.
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