Oscar season may officially be over, but there are still a few more films to see. ‘Hidden Figures’- Directed by Theodore Melfi, and based on the non-fiction book by Margot Lee Shetterly about the three female mathematicians and engineers who helped the late John Glenn become the first astronaut to orbit around Earth – was the choice of film to catch in theaters with my best friend on our usual movie night, and surprisingly, it ended up being a great watch. Watching these three women (Taraji P. Henson, Janelle Monae, and Oscar-nominee Octavia Spencer) overcome racial segregation in the early 60’s while becoming the hard-working and tough-willed women that helped them get the job done and make history is satisfying. (As Kevin Costner’s director of the Space Task Group, Al Harrison says after destroying the sign for the ‘Colored Ladies’ restroom “In NASA, we all piss the same color.” – Ridiculous as it sounds, it is true!)
The way that ‘Hidden Figures’ is shot is a testament to the films of the 60’s. It has the feel that 2014’s Biopic of the Civil Rights movement ‘Selma’- directed by Ava Duvernay – seemed to project. Not only that, but ‘Hidden Figures’ also deals with an issue in similar vein. That of racial segregation and how it felt to be a colored person trying to make their way through a society that did not seem to accept diversity of color. It is heartbreaking, yet overplayed, to see Henson’s Katherine Johnson (née Goble) rush out of her workplace in the Space Task Group all the way to the next building in order to use the restroom; a scene where Spencer’s Dorothy Vaughn tries to use a library in order to check out books that are not in “her” section is also a bit emotional and makes you sympathize with these characters. While Monae’s Mary Jackson is married to a Civil Rights leader (Aldis Hodge) who believes that their children need to know what is going on in the world.
The performances of these three women are amazing and emotional in all the right notes, whether it be wisecracks or Oscar-worthy drama. Monae is a riot and gives Mrs. Jackson a ton of sass (Which should have earned her an Oscar-nomination over the barely visible Spencer). Mahershala Ali joins the cast as Jim Johnson, who wins over Katherine’s affections which leads to an eventual marriage. While Kirsten Dunst and Jim Parsons play very unlikable roles as NASA supervisor Vivian Mitchell, and head engineer Paul Stafford, respectively.
‘Hidden Figures’ doesn’t just focus on the topic of racial segregation. At its backdrop is the addition of John Glenn (Portrayed by a very charismatic Glen Powell), who ends up going to space with the help of NASA and the three women involved. Would John Glenn have survived without these three amazing engineers solving the equations? Maybe. Maybe not. But whatever the outcome, we are thankful for the likes of Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson, and Dorothy Vaughn for helping to make John Glenn’s orbit a safe one.