Hidden Figures contains the one thing I never thought would truly grip me as a central component of a story…maths. However, this story of three trailblazing black women at NASA in the early 1960s is massively entertaining from start to finish.
The film follows Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), a mathematician whose calculations launch rockets; Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer), the would-be supervisor who teachers herself computer code and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae), NASA’s first female engineer.
All three women are completely fascinating and hugely intelligent, and it was hugely frustrating to witness them be sidelined by white men and women who couldn’t see anything other than the colour of their skin. It shines a light on how truly ridiculous the legal racism was at the time; black women having to go half a mile to use the toilet as the bathrooms weren’t integrated, white people refusing to drink from the same communal coffee pot as a black person, having books be segregated by colour. Hidden Figures is a film that unashamedly celebrates their achievements, and the work done by the other black women at NASA; in addition to making maths and science look truly fantastical (and something that can be done just as well by women).
In terms of the plot, I found it really engaging, although in part this may be because my knowledge of the space programme prior to the moon landing is somewhat murky. This did mean every expedition was really fraught for me. The only part of the plot that semi-bothered me was the fact that Al Harrison (Kevin Costner) was given a bit of a white man to the rescue plot, which I felt was a little unnecessary.
Performance-wise, Janelle Monae, who is better known for her singing, is a really watchable presence on screen (her wardrobe is also seriously enviable). Spencer is also a really entertaining watch, and her determination in protecting herself and ‘her girls’ in the wake of technological change in NASA felt very true. Really though, the film belongs to Taraji P. Henson, who is brilliant as the incredibly clever Katherine; balancing her career with motherhood and a burgeoning relationship with Jim Johnson (a very charming Mahershala Ali), and I am disappointed to see that Henson hasn’t really had the award season that she deserves.
I would highly recommend checking out Hidden Figures, it’s a film which celebrates innovation and integration, and achieving the real impossible.