Today I had the chance to see Hidden Figures, and I could just as easily title this blog- ‘doing what others so often fail to do in a bio-pic’. Rarely have I been to this type of film and the audience cheer loudly throughout. Of all the movies I’ve seen in 2016, Hidden Figures, is one of the most rewatchable and it is one I am eager for friends and family to go and see.
Hidden Figures tells the real life story of 3 African-American women at NASA as they prepared to send John Glenn around the earth. Some may dismiss it as a formula film but that is underselling some of the standout choices it makes. Most importantly it avoids theatrics and instead shows the smaller more systematic racism women like these 3 faced on a daily basis.
Most of these kinds of movies have the evil redneck racist who is gathering the KKK. I’m not saying there isn’t a place for that. There absolutely is but sometimes such violence can make the racism harder to relate to and in a way more easy to shake off. It’s more little things that can impact me more. For example, in one scene Katherine comes into a room and a man expects her to take out the trash. Might we still sometimes expect people of certain races to do such work? We shouldn’t and movies like Hidden Figures help remind us of that.
The 3 women, Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, are played by Taraji P Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae respectively. They are all completely lovely as brilliant mathematicians and engineers who find a way to push through the systematic racism that existed everywhere at that time. Most of the people they work with would never consider themselves racists and yet they lazily engage in stereotyping and discrimination all the time.
It can be a very simple thing like using the bathroom, drinking communal coffee or more serious things like being made a supervisor or getting the information needed to do your job. I love movies about work and the way particularly the Octavia Spencer character Dorothy maneuvered her way through the office politics was very impressive and brilliant.
Kirsten Dunst is great as a supervisor over the white computers. She thinks she is being respectful of Dorothy when she really isn’t. There is a scene between the two of them in a bathroom that is so well done.
I also liked Mahershala Ali as Katherine’s beau, Glen Powell as John Glenn and Jim Parsons as Katherine’s stick in the mud colleague Paul Stafford.
I remember when I used to dread seeing Kevin Costner’s name in a film and now after McFarland USA and films like that I look forward to him. He’s great here as Katherine’s boss. He just wants the job done and this makes him a bit blind to what Katherine is going through, which leads to another scene the audience cheered at.
I guess if I was going to nitpick the movie, the only real flaw I had was the music. I felt they kept playing the same snappy Pharrell Williams song as a cheap way of saying ‘look how sassy these women are’. I grew a little tired of it.
But that is a very small complaint. This is a movie you can take your kids too. It’s PG after all and afterwards have a conversation about the small and big ways we discriminate against others. Talk about how these women were heroes and made a real difference to our country despite the challenges they faced.
In some ways Hidden Figures reminded me of last year’s Brooklyn (except this is true story). Both are simple, old-fashioned storytelling, about important parts of our history. They both have great messages and wonderful performances you can’t help but like. This is more family friendly than Brooklyn but please do not dismiss it because it takes the crowd-pleasing approach. It’s honestly one of my favorite movies of 2016 and I hope it gets remembered come Oscars. Regardless, take your family and be inspired by Hidden Figures.
Overall Grade- A