Hidden Figures, directed by Theodore Melfi and written by Melfi and Allison Schroeder is based on the book by Margot Lee Shetterly (2014). This movie is inspiring, informative, and entertaining. In essence, it is one of the best pictures I have seen in many years.
It tells the true story of Katherine Johnson (played by Taraji P. Henson – currently the lead star in the Empire television series), Dorothy Vaughan (played by academy award winner Octavia Spencer), and Mary Jackson (played the by the vivacious, beautiful and in-your-face, Janelle Monáe).
Shock of shocks, these three female African-American, über mathematicians, physicists and engineers working at the then-segregated Langley Research Center for the space program in the early 1960s in Hampton, Virginia in the USA, calculated flight trajectories and assisted in the engineering trouble-shooting for Mercury space launches (1961-1963) and the Apollo 11 (1969) flight to the Moon and subsequent space shuttle launches. This film follows the lives of these three women during the time they did this landmark and unsung heroic work.
The film also features the perfectly cast Kevin Costner who plays the role of the NASA director who believes in Johnson enough to see past colour and gender and taps into her mathematical genius to help complete the goals of the space program in its earliest stages.
Kirsten Dunst is surprisingly good as the initially snide racist ‘boss’ of the coloured ‘computers’(as the small army of female black mathematicians at NASA were then called) whose development throughout the film went from haughty white superiority to grudging respect for the honesty, integrity and higher skills levels of the black women working at the NASA office. The movie makes it clear that without these women and their work with mathematical calculations, engineering support and early computer programming work, America would not have made it into space at that time in history. This story is inspiring.
The many hurdles presented by her work world included the petty injustice of having white men put their names on the work she co-authored, placement of a separate coffee pot for ‘coloured’ people in the office (even though she was the only one of colour in there!), and the overall disdain for the merits of her ideas and mathematic solutions.
With that as a back drop, I loved seeing the know-it-all men’s mouths drop open when Henson’s character calculated mathematical equations so complex that few understood what she was saying. At the same time, the human side of the story that presented scenes about the personal lives, relationships and families of the main characters was very well done, giving a snapshot of who these women were at home and at their church.
Particularly poignant was when Mary Jackson (Monáe’s character) went to court and ‘won’ the right to take a high level engineering class held at the local white school. And, when Dorothy Vaughan (Spencer’s character), had to ‘steal’ a book on Fortan, the new IBM computer language at that time, from the whites-only local library, so she could teach herself the new system.
Hidden Figures won the day in its US box office debut back in December, 2016 and beat out Rogue One for earning money. As of the end of February, 2017 the film has earned nearly US$199 million in international and domestic box office receipts. The film was made on a budget of only US$25 million.
This great movie was nominated for 67 prestigious film awards across the world, including the Academy Awards, BAFTA, NAACP Image Awards and the Golden Globes. It won 27 different awards including the Screen Actors Guild Awards 2017 award for the Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture.
Hidden Figures is currently showing at Ster Kinekor Grove Mall.