Hidden Figures

America, 1960s: the country is still very much divided by colour. Martin Luther King Jr is marching, JFK appears to be listening, but black people are still drinking for different fountains, still sitting at the back of the bus. Meanwhile, at NASA, about 2 dozen black women are working their fingers to the bone (actually, working their brains dry – they’re not labourers, they’re computers in the time before computers were machines). Does hf-gallery-04-gallery-imageNASA pay them equally? Not by a long shot. Treat them fairly? Not so much. Promote them? Never. But hire them they must because there’s a space race on with the Russians, and they can’t afford not to hire the best and the brightest no matter the skin colour encasing the brains.

These women, buried deep in the basement of a building far away from the main action, are fighting prejudice on two levels: race and gender. Hidden Figures follows 3 of them, real-life women who helped launch John Glen into space. Dorothy Vaughan (Spencer) does the work of a supervisor without the title or the pay. Not only does she get shit done, she intuits that the future of her computing department is changing and she takes it upon herself to learn the language of the future  – and International Business Machine is being installed painstakingly at NASA, and she’ll be the one to learn its code, and teach it to others. Mary Jackson (Monae) has an engineer’s talent and mind but she can’t get her credentials to match because the only education opportunity is at an all-white school. Katherine Johnson (Henson) is a single mother as well as a mathematical genius. When NASA discovers her talent she works overtime to help invent the new math necessary for John Glen’s orbit while still drinking out of the “colored” coffee pot.

Hidden Figures is conventional story-telling all the way, relating the story of ground-breaking women in the least ground-breaking way possible. But it’s crowd-pleasing: it thumbnail_24795had the audience applauding. These women are so inspirational that it would be hard to mess up the story, and Hidden Figures manages not to stand in its own way. At the Toronto International Film Festival this fall, Pharrell Williams, who collaborated on the score with Hans Zimmer, gave a concert of all the original music he’d worked on for the film. I worried that he might overshadow the film, but in fact his music fits right in very comfortably, establishing the time period in a pop-heavy way.

The cast is stacked with heavy-hitters. Octavia Spencer is nominated for a Golden Globe for her role, and she’s as good as we know she can be. But I was impressed with Taraji P. Henson, who plays a vamp and a bit of a diva with the press, and an outspoken, strong contender on Empire, but in Hidden Figures managed to play bookish and humble with a shy strength and subversive self-confidence.

Hidden Figures is a feel-good tribute; a story that was meant to be told. The script is a charmer, and surprisingly humourous, and the three leads infuse it with power. Sure it’s a bit run-of-the-mill, but it’s also a positive way to start the new year, and a movie you won’t be able to resist.

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26 thoughts on “Hidden Figures

  1. Pingback: Golden Globe Nominations | ASSHOLES WATCHING MOVIES

  2. Jane Lurie

    I thoroughly enjoyed this film and saw a screening in San Francisco with a crowd that included many young girls aspiring to be scientists and mathematicians. The panel after included Octavia Spencer, Theodore Melfi and a female, African American Nasa Rocket Scientist. It was all very fun and exciting.

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  3. tubularsock

    Thanks Jay ……. Tubularsock may have to go see this one. Tubularsock usually hates this type of movie because that period of time made Tubularsock a bit upset. It only reminds me that we didn’t Burn Baby Burn it all down enough!

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  4. Carrie Rubin

    I just came back from seeing this movie! I really liked it. Tough not to tear up a bit in the end in triumph. I read the book, and the film takes a few liberties, but I figured it would have to as the book was rather dry. Still, the women’s accomplishments are very much real, as are the struggles and injustice they faced. I can’t believe it took so long for this story to be told. Thank goodness for Margot Lee Shetterly who finally told it in her book.

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      1. Carrie Rubin

        In the book, it’s mentioned that the astronauts treated everyone well. Didn’t go much into it beyond that. Anything related to the space travel itself was very technical.

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  5. J.

    Brilliant. I wasn’t aware of this one (nor that there’s a book!) I shall be interested in both. Horrible times those, eh? Really isn’t all that long ago either.

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  6. Christopher

    I’m really glad for the timing of this film. While it’s set in the past it’s a good reminder that while things have gotten better we still have a long way to go.
    A few years ago I read a list of stupid (mostly sexist) things women engineers hear regularly and I said, “I can’t believe we haven’t moved past these attitudes.”
    A woman replied, “Congratulations on your white penis.”
    I still appreciate that lesson.

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  7. Pingback: REVIEW: Hidden Figures | ASSHOLES WATCHING MOVIES – THE MIX, a weekly look at mixed ancestry

  8. Pingback: Oscar Nominations 2017 | ASSHOLES WATCHING MOVIES

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  10. Susan Leighton

    This is one of the few Oscar contenders that I want to see. I love the story & have always been enamoured with the space program. I love that women made John Glenn’s flight possible. He was also responsible in helping this story get to the silver screen.

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