On the 26 April 1962, the world looked on with awe and amazement, as America successfully landed their first spacecraft on the moon. But behind the groundbreaking achievement of Ranger IV, lay the unsung heroines equally deserving of their phenomenal place in history. Known as NASA’s colored computers the female African-American mathematicians were instrumental in helping America secure their victory in the great space race. But for more than fifty years, their story remained largely unknown, until Margot Lee Shetterly’s non-fiction novel was bought to life on the big screen.
Hidden Figures doesn’t require any spectacular special effects or dramatic plot reveals. The simplicity of the bare truth revealed in all its raw honesty, is as entertaining as it is eye opening. Complimented by the outstanding portrayals from all three lead actresses, Theodore Melfi directs this biographical drama, well deserving of it’s Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture.
Taraji P. Henson (most recently known for her role as Cookie Lyon in Empire) carries the spotlight. In a role she plays both convincingly and effortlessly, she shines as Katherine G Johnson. Battling both gender and racial barriers, her talents are restricted to the segregated West Area Computers division of Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, where she works alongside her colleagues, aspiring engineer Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe also a successful recording artist and model) and informal supervisor Dorothy Vaughan (Oscar winner Octavia Spencer)
Octavia Spencer’s subtle yet powerful portrayal of Dorothy is both compelling and fill of integrity. Equally impressive is Janelle Monáe’s determination and poise in playing Mary. Accompanied by a supporting cast of talent including Jim Parsons (Big Bang Theory), Kirsten Dunst, Glenn Powell and Mahershala Ali (of Luke Cage also reviewed on The Pulse) it’s no wonder it’s list of accolades is still growing.
An early scene shows the trio car pooling to work, when they run into car trouble. Pulled over by a white police officer, he struggles to comprehend Dorothy is capable of fixing their Chevy Impala, let alone believe all three women are employed by NASA. Yet despite having the odds stacked against them, these extraordinary women preserve in the most trying of circumstances, soon making their mark.
With the heat on for NASA after Russia’s successful satellite launch, Katherine is promoted to the Space Task Group, the first African American woman to join the team. Constantly undermined by her colleagues, she suffers a series of set backs, as a reluctant reminder her place is separate and not equal.
For me, the stand out scenes of the movie shows the harrowing lengths Katherine has to go to, just to use the bathroom. Forced to leave the building, she struggles through the pouring rain, and across to her former work place, as there are no designated colored bathrooms for her to use. Her boss (played with precision by Kevin Costner) becomes frustrated at her frequent unexplained absences. On discovering the truth, he knocks down the Colored Bathroom sign in an act of defiance and stamp of his authority, effectively abolishing NASA’s bathroom segregation.
The underlying tones of racism come across with just the right blend of casual ignorance to remain authentic to the era. This is where the movie has done a great job in not shoving a message down the throats of the viewers, but instead achieving more impact by letting it quietly seep into the story line, and spread like a weed.
“Whenever I choose a role, it has to be something that I’m intrigued by or enlightens me in some way. This movie had both of those combined.”
Definitely worth a watch for both it’s entertainment value and history lesson.
4 out of 5 jaffas.