Review by Tabitha Floyd
Hidden Figures is a movie that premiered in 2016 about the unsung heroes of NASA who were instrumental in sending astronaut John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth, into space in 1962. In the movie we follow Katherine Johnson (Taraji P Henson) and her friends Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae). These NASA scientists are also African American women which explains why this is a part of history that has largely gone untold. Each of the main women get their own arc, but we mostly follow Katherine who is a remarkable mathematician. She has to work through everyday office racism, sexism, and deal with balancing her home-life with her three children and her husband with her ground-breaking work.
Rather than attempting too wide a commentary, Hidden Figures simply focuses on these three formidable women, following their journey working in an environment that is hostile towards them. The three main actresses provide lively and powerful performances that make the film a captivating watch. It is a remarkable story about black female strength and skill in the segregated state of Virginia moulded to a Hollywood format. The script was taken in part from a book by Margot Lee Shetterly who is the granddaughter of two NASA scientists. Though often predictable, it nimbly keeps pace with the trio as each of them pick their way through the minefield of deep-rooted prejudices.
As an example of the struggles the three women had to endure, a scene shows that is when Katherine has moved out of her old building and into her new job, but she has to walk all the way back to use the toilet because all the others are for whites only. This highlights a humiliating setback she had to face in a segregated workplace. Her new boss, Al Harrison, does away with that particular absurdity. While he leans towards a seemingly, “white saviour” character, a typical stereotype in racially charged films to ease white guilt, his performance somewhat redeems him as he doesn’t seem to seek anything other than a more efficient workplace.
Overall, I would definitely label it as a ‘must watch’, an easy way to learn about the history that often gets quietly forgotten and an overall enjoyable film. While it is not subtle in its message, it portrays it in a poignant way with such vibrant and likeable characters, it’s hard to dislike.