Film Review: Hidden Figures

screen-shot-2017-02-21-at-6-12-32-pmKatherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson) surrounded by NASA staff. Image via 20th Century Fox

Director: Theodore Melfi 

Screenwriters: Theodore Melfi, Allison Schroeder

Starring: Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe, Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst, Jim Parsons

With the current push to encourage more women and people of colour to get into the classically white male-dominated science, technology, engineering, and mathematics professions, Hidden Figures portrays a snapshot of a time in American history where segregation was the law, and the few women in academia doing highly valuable work at the time had little to no recognition of their brilliance.

screen-shot-2017-02-21-at-6-10-51-pmMary Jackson (Janelle Monáe), Katherine and Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer). Image via 20th Century Fox

Based on true events, Hidden Figures shows the struggles and triumphs of Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson; African-American women who initially worked as computers at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and resisted systematic sexism and racism in their paths to further the science that was required to put a man into orbit around the earth.

The film begins with the introduction of Katherine Johnson as a little girl who has mathematical abilities beyond her years; she has a particular fascination with geometry. Her parents are only able to send her to a secondary school because the community came together to fund her tuition, and only one school in the area taught non-white children beyond eighth grade level. The rest of the film takes place years later when Katherine is older (played by Taraji P. Henson), college educated, and working at NASA with two of her friends, Dorothy (Octavia Spencer), and Mary (Janelle Monáe).

screen-shot-2017-02-21-at-6-11-48-pmDorothy, Katherine and Mary meeting John Glenn (Glen Powell). Image via 20th Century Fox

What follows is an excellent film centred on these genius women doing their jobs very well despite the pervasive racist attitudes held by their mostly white male colleagues. Dorothy even has a confrontation with her white female superior who is as equally racist as the white men of the film, if not more so. 

Hidden Figures is a welcome change from the usual predictable and numerous stories focusing on white men; specifically the recent trend of films about, or featuring, white male geniuses. Popular personality traits of white male geniuses such as being an ass for no good reason, and possessing levels of moderate to severe social awkwardness, are not traits presented by Mary, Dorothy, or Katherine in this film. This gives the characters another noteworthy level of difference to other films of similar genres.

screen-shot-2017-02-21-at-6-11-02-pm Katherine, Dorothy and Mary with their families. Image via 20th Century Fox

Interestingly, the white people in this story are not the usual wholly evil, murderous racists, or completely wholesome freedom-fighter allies that are often present in other films focused on the oppression of African-Americans. Katherine, Dorothy, and Mary each interact with white people who are more powerful than them, making known the ridiculous situations they find themselves in because they are affected by systematic racism. The initially racist powerful figures then realise that arbitrary rules and prejudices inhibit the advancement of NASA’s achievements, and so remove segregation from bathrooms, eating areas, and allow them to study at historically white colleges.

Hidden Figures is a fantastic film, and it is not a stretch to say it may be one of the best films of 2017.

5 out of 5 stars

– Jasmin Hoadley

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