After I watched this film, the first thing that came to my mind is that this story was told too late. It deserved media recognition before 2017. I then came to learn that it was not recognised properly until 2016. I always find it strange how stories like this remain buried until convenient. It is easy to jump to the unsavoury assumption that race is the contributing factor.
Hidden Figures showcases a nonfiction of three African-American women at NASA in 1961 during the famous space race against Russia. Until this movie was released I would have never comprehended that black women were a significant factor in getting men into space. That is not me trying to be controversial. It is my idea of what America was like at the time. I suppose it speaks volumes that scientific development was a catalyst for social progression, which I will discuss later. Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson) is a mathematician working as a “Computer”, Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) is an engineer and Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) is an unofficial supervisor. All three actors put in a worthy performance of women resilient against societal challenges in a scientifically progressive world.
Hidden Figures excels in its time period more than anything. The movie manages to place the audience in a particular place in time without smearing the social problems in your face. It hones in on the racism. It was a tense time between white and black people. The scenes where discrimination is portrayed are effective because Hidden Figures ensures those moments happen when it is important to the plot. It wants you to understand the uncomfortable nature these women found themselves in. They are smart. They are more skilled than most of their peers but due to undesirable social barriers, they are limited. At the same time, the three women are constantly under the microscope due to the colour of their skin.
Hidden Figures use of the time period preps itself for grandstanding moments which deserve an applause if anything. A scene in particular, where Katherine rants about the ‘coloured’ bathroom puts you on edge. You know it is coming and the stress of the situation manages to resonate off-screen. Of course, the moments where science is the entertainment are to be admired, but there always seems to be a social component attached, which allows you to be emotionally connected to it from start to finish.
Although Jim Parsons’ appearance in this historical drama comes as a surprise, the unforeseen key performance comes from Kevin Costner. His performance as Al Harrison, the Space Task Group Director, is one you become more focused on than you would imagine because he elevates himself above the racist vacuum that all the other characters have succumbed too. There is real recognition in the story that if we progress together as a human race then we achieve our targets quicker. He is a character that is well beyond his time in terms of thinking. Bathroom segregation is ridiculous after all.
In the end, Hidden Figures delivers a drama worth watching. It provides an insight into professional working African-American women at the time. Yes, it is NASA. Even a place of scientific development had to learn.
If anything, this movie is worth watching for the ‘coloured bathroom’ scene alone. It is the moment of baited breath when Taraji P. Henson delivers that moment.
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Daniel Hart is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has operated as Editor-in-Chief since 2017.