By: Oberst von Berauscht –
Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer), & Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) are all human computers working for NASA, with the job of completing thousands of mathematical calculations every day vital to sending an astronaut into space. Katherine is a particularly gifted mathematician, and is soon drafted into doing complex analytical work at the front line of the space race. Dorothy aspires to be a supervisor, and indeed has been doing supervisory work for months without the title, and Mary is working to become the first female Engineer with NASA. Together their contributions helped America win the space race, but also helped further the cause of Civil Rights by proving women and particularly African American women had just as much to offer science.
Telling a fascinating story from a forgotten piece of history, Hidden Figures is a wonderfully entertaining melodrama. The movie is set at the time Astronaut John Glenn prepares to orbit Earth, and at the same time as America was standing up for democracy and freedom in the eyes of the world, it was also a hotbed of race strife and discrimination. Director Theodore Melfi conveys a solid and compelling story that is destined to be viewed in math and history classrooms across the country. And it should, because the movie has an inspiring message for anyone who pursues their dreams in the face of those who do not see them for who they are, but what they are.
Hidden Figures is based on the lives of 3 different women, but in practice it really is about Katherine Johnson. The film spends too little time developing the other two characters with the same amount of interest. Octavia Spencer manages to power through it and make Dorothy Vaughan interesting without very much in the script to build her backstory. But Janelle Monáe effectively disappears from the movie for large periods. Perhaps the screenwriters should have narrowed the film’s focus.
Ultimately, the film plays things a bit too safe when it comes to addressing the Civil Rights issues, whether it be women’s rights or African American rights, or both. The movie avoids controversy and mostly retreads the old stereotypes about racism, with no room left for grey areas. Films such as this overly focus on overt racism rather than the more challenging subject of institutionalized racism and indirect racism. Particularly since this film deals with an institution that had segregated facilities, the fact that it softballs this issue seems to underserve its subject matter.
Hidden Figures could quite fairly be characterized as The Help in space, in that it presents a narrative about the little-known lives of African American working women who struggled to make a life for themselves. Though Hidden Figures is not quite as affecting, it is an important piece of of forgotten history to highlight.
Hidden Figures (2016) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: for every sign that reads “Colored”
Take a Drink: every time the word “Computer” is used
Take a Drink: for every reference to the Russians
Do a Shot: whenever you try to understand the math, and your brain hurts…