Review: ‘Hidden Figures’ Is A Fun and Important Story That Needed To Be Told
Several times in history, the winners paint the facts and the things we know and learn as a society are painted and catered towards a majority. Often in our society, this has come to mean a white majority. Which means a lot of substantial contributions made by people of color have been ignored or erased from the general conscious. Now, there are efforts being made to correct this – one of them being this movie.
Hidden Figures took me by surprise. Of course I was stoked to see it. The trailer made me smile, and I was very excited to see the hidden contributions of these African-American women from our history that have been so callously forgotten. What makes it even more frustrating is that if it weren’t for Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson and Dorothy Vaughan, John Glenn very well may not have gone to space.
But the trailer seemed fun, lighthearted and like a history lesson. So I admit I was mostly excited to see Janelle Monae, Taraji P Henson and Octavia Spencer (all of whom I adore) in roles so different than anything they’ve done in the past. But there was nothing that was going to compel me not to go and see this film. So I went.
Boy, I’m glad I did.
Hidden Figures consists of African-American women, or human “computers” for NASA, being picked for the job of a mathematician who could calculate the launch and landing of the first planes to go into space. Of course, the woman they choose is Katherine Johnson, played by Taraji P Henson. She suffers from segregation and discrimination, but she still manages to do her job. Her friends, Dorothy and Mary, also work for NASA, being there not only to guide her but to further their own careers and make some impressive strides for women of color themselves.
As Mary Jackson says in the film, there is a great amount of joy in being the “first” to accomplish something – and that’s what the film gives me, because it’s truly the first film I’ve seen of its kind. Time and time again in 2016, Black women released stunning art that not only spoke to their inner beauty, but to what they contribute to society on a large scale. Hidden Figures does this and more. It’s entirely a pick-me-up, empowering film and it made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside thinking about watching the Black women in my life watch this movie.
Writer/director Theodore Melfi navigates the complex, rich true events of history with ease, letting the performances and script do most of the work. And they do. I was thoroughly blown away by most of the acting in this movie. Octavia Spencer has given this type of performance before, so while she’s great, I wouldn’t say she’s amazing or mind-boggling. But Taraji P Henson, who has shown her range time and time again when going from the vibrant furs of Cookie Lyon to the slimmed-back, confident shiq of Joss from Person of Interest, gives one of the best performances I’ve seen from her. She’s amazing. There is a scene with her mid-movie that both gave me chills and want to cheer out loud in the middle of the screening, and she did that all with her acting.
Janelle Monae is also pretty darn good, pulling some of the beatific energy she harnessed in Moonlight to imbue her character with warmth and sexiness. But a surprising scene-stealer (or not too surprising for those of us who have watched Luke Cage) was Mahershala Ali, who played Katherine’s husband Jim and commanded every scene he was in. I swear, Ali may be the next Denzel Washington. He has the rugged handsomeness, the dashing figure, and the charisma, with all the acting talent. There is a scene of flirtation between Katherine and Jim that had me quivering in my chair.
The script is good but a little too on the nose; some of the lines were a little direct for my liking. But overall, it navigates the story pretty good (though I have to say, the third act drew on a little longer than I would have liked). The final scene of the film, and the credits that followed, brought tears to my eyes, but not of sadness – of joy.
The movie reflects on the importance of Black women, not just to society but to the psyche of Black culture. For a movie that’s written by a white duo – Melfi and Alison Schroeder, whose only other credit is the terrible Mean Girls sequel that no one watched – it’s incredibly effective, powerful and all-knowing about the effects of racism on a person. Sure, it’s a little too cheery towards the end, and the cooing of mega star Pharell doesn’t help. Sure, it’s more than annoying to hear homophobic gospel singer Kim Burrell’s voice on some of the score tracks. But all in all, Hidden Figures is a powerful film.
What I loved about it was that it didn’t shy away from the topic of racism and segregation amongst Black and white folks. It went there, and it went there in full. But another thing I loved was that you never got the sense that the white characters no longer had racist ideals, and suddenly saw the light. The white characters in the film were portrayed as they probably actually were in the time period – racist and prejudice, but willing to set aside their feelings about people of color to get a man on the moon.
When the credits began to roll on Hidden Figures, I did not want to get out of my seat. I wanted to stay and continue to marvel at the beauty of what I’d just watched – a rousing, powerful film that praises and celebrates Black women in a way that’s far too uncommon in today’s society. Good. They deserve it.