An exceptional story of courage and persistence, Hidden Figures finally reveals the incredible contribution a group of African American women made to the US space program in the early 1960s.
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The story begins with the words ‘based on true events’. This becomes a more incredible statement the further we delve into the struggles faced by three women working at NASA in 1961.
Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson) is a gifted mathematician, who is initially employed as a computer (the title given to people who double-check the calculations of other, more important people). She is recruited into Al Harrison’s (Kevin Costner) team.
It’s this team that’s tasked with seeing the first American in space, and which faces the mounting political pressure resulting from Kennedy’s obsession with the space race. While initially she is ostracised due to her race, and ignored as a female, her mathematical abilities quickly prove essential in helping the mission overcome some of its biggest challenges.
Her fellow computer colleague, Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe), wants to be an engineer, but to do so she must graduate from a course she is unable to attend, because the only school to offer it is for white students only. To even be considered for the promotion, she has to battle entrenched prejudice on a number of fronts, even from her husband who seems more concerned with racial civil rights, than the rights of women.
Finally, we follow the journey of Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer), who is frustrated with having to take on the role of supervisor, without having the title, the pay rise, or proper acknowledgement for her work. She foresees the loss of relevancy for her team when the IBM computers finally are able to perform their jobs.
As the most vulnerable employees, she takes it upon herself to train in computer programing, and teach her team the skills they will need to outperform their more preferred white male colleagues.
Hidden Figures is an exceptional film, and one that will stir something deep in any woman who has ever faced prejudice or sexism simply because of their gender (which is most of the women I know). To have achieved what they did at that time is a truly remarkable feat, and they certainly deserve to be hidden figures no more.
Having recently won the award for Best Ensemble Cast at the SAGS, and with three well deserved Oscar nominations—including Best Film—it would seem that the accolades these women deserve are finally being realised, at least in the cinematic realm.
These are emotional and nuanced performances that powerfully deliver a reminder of just how ugly a world of prejudice is. At this time in history, it feels even more critical to visit the early 60s, to remind us not just how far we’ve come, but also how far we still have to go before equality is truly achieved.
Director: Theodore Melfi
Stars: Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe
Runtime: 2 hours 7 mins
Release Date: Feb 16
Reviewer Rating: 4/5
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