Hidden Figures opens with a meeting between Katherine’s (Taraji P. Henderson) parents, her teacher and the school principal. Things look intense, but not because Katherine’s in trouble. Nevertheless, tension and anticipation hang thick in the air. Katherine’s parents have just been handed a huge opportunity on account of Katherine’s superior intellect. She’s been offered a full scholarship to West Virginia Collegiate Institute. It’s the best school for African Americans in the state, and it’s the only school that offers an education past the eighth grade anywhere near their current location.
Katherine is a gifted child and unlike so many that came before her, she will not miss out on the opportunities that matter. Her teacher, principal and her parent’s will not allow it. The teachers in Katherine’s school are so sure of her potential, they take up a collection to ensure her family has the funds to settle into a new home, near the new school. That’s how much hope was riding on this child’s success.
Flash forward a couple of decades and Katherine’s working in the West Area Computing section at Langley in Hampton, Virginia. She’s a computer at NASA and she does the ridiculously complex calculations necessary to facilitate space travel, by hand. Well, eventually she does. At first she’s treated like somewhat of an office supply, like a tape dispenser or a mechanical pencil. She works with a team of women in the all-black department known as the Colored Computers. I felt embarrassed just typing that out, but that’s our history as a nation, segregation and all. The great thing about this movie is that it doesn’t need to beat you over the head with anything because the actual events on which this movie is based, speak volumes. Hidden Figures is the story of three women who overcame every obstacle thrown at them and managed, not just regular, old success but remarkable, American-history-altering, space-travel-facilitating success.
These women’s stories are outrageously consuming--each in their own right. It’s insane that I’ve lived this long and I’m just now getting to know their names and stories. Seriously, the entire movie is inspiring as hell. As a matter of fact, if you listen hard enough, you might even be able to hear a crack in the glass ceiling just before the credits roll. Hidden Figures is intriguing and entertaining, and if it’s not required viewing in school soon, then something is truly broken in our education system. JK it’s already completely broken and crawling with grizzly bears.
Moving along, Taraji P. Henson is warm, quick-witted and outspoken as Katherine. She’s also restrained and elegant—as every woman of that era was expected to be. Henson embodies all the qualities of a southern belle while also making sure to project an earnest, progressive and hard-working widow and single parent. She is every woman. Henson is powerful as Katherine G. Johnson. She’s captivating and comforting.
Henson's performance may have been the standout in this film, but her co-starts showed up and nailed it as well. Together they embody a camaraderie most would envy. Janelle Monáe is excellent as Mary Jackson and she delivers deadpan humor better than most. I’m excited to be seeing more of her. Octavia Spencer is absolute perfection as Dorothy Vaughan. She brings us a woman that’s strong, smart and also clever. Spencer's portrayal of Vaughan is quiet, yet powerful. She may not get the bulk of the screen time but every moment she’s on screen, she owns. Also, that trademark sass isn’t something you’re going to find in this movie. Instead, Spencer gives us a distinguished mathematician and respected manager who still knows how to have a laugh.
Theodore Melfi (Director) tackles the racism and segregation that mars this particular period of American history rather bluntly. These important aspects of our history are addressed matter of factly and intensely and I liked that. With that said, the film feels familiar and borderline formulaic at times, but not necessarily in a bad way. Hidden Figures is a great story. It’s unflinching and unapologetic thanks to that excellent performance by Taraji P. Henderson. It hits close to home thanks to Octavia Spencer and it’s punctuated with the humor we need to get through tough times thanks to Janelle Monáe. It feels familiar because it flows like a fairy tale and I've yet to find a reason to categorize that as a bad thing, at least in this instance.
Hidden Figures - A
A = Movies this good don’t happen often and If you’re going to watch something you should watch this. This is exactly what I’m looking for when I go to the movies and I trust you’ll enjoy it if you keep an open mind and give it a chance.