HOLLYWOOD—I recall after seeing the trailer for the movie “Hidden Figures” telling myself, ‘Now, that is going to be something powerful.’ The movie is indeed powerful, but there is indeed one elephant in the room that prevents the movie from being spectacular in my opinion. First off, the film revolves around three women, Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer), Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae) and Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson) who were powerhouse players behind the scenes at NASA.
The gist of the narrative follows these women, their families and NASA as they attempt to be the first to have an American astronaut complete an orbit around the planet Earth. For those entering the theater expecting “Hidden Figures” to have a similar tone to “The Help,” think again. While some of the dynamics may be similar, the narratives are quite different.
The film opens to the audience being introduced to Katherine at a very young age showcasing that her mathematical abilities are beyond anything witnessed before. We later fast-forward to the present where Mary, Katherine and Dorothy find themselves stalled on the road on their way to NASA.
This is where I have a bit of a tiff with the movie. It’s apparent to the viewer and to anyone who knows history that the United States was quite a segregated place up until the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964. The movie makes it obvious of the segregation and racial problems that exists between Whites and African-Americans, but it never becomes a major conversation point, as one expects.
That is quite disappointing as a viewer because it would elicit even stronger emotions from the spectator and improve the overall punch the film can deliver. NASA has a building that houses all Whites, and then there is a building that houses all the African-Americans; it’s clear from our characters that everyone knows and understands their place at the company.
Delivering an exceptionally powerful performance is Kevin Costner who portrays Al Harrison, the director of the Space Task Group. While many might deem Costner’s role to be small, his presence on the screen and what he does with his character is amazing. That scene where he proves we are all equal regardless of the color of skin sent chills down the spine. Other strong supporting roles include players Kirsten Dunst, who plays an adversary to Spencer’s character, and Jim Parsons, who plays an adversary to Henson’s character. This is indeed a movie where the cylinders are working on all levels in terms of acting, storytelling and directing.
There is no arguing that Henson is the star of the movie and embodies Katherine with a level of quiet intensity that explodes when she is questioned about her continual disappearance each day to use the restroom. It is indeed one of the most powerful moments in the movie that audiences will react to. Monae is a revelation as Mary, who has a level of sass and authority that one wishes could be seen by more women not only in cinema, but in the real world.
For a movie that is rated PG I’m still slightly stunned the narrative was able to push the boundary in the way it did, but I honestly believe if the movie was PG-13 we’d have an even bigger conversation, as the racial boundary that appears apparent, but glided over would be more present showcasing even more development in our three main characters, as well as the supporting players surrounding them.
Make no mistake “Hidden Figures” is a powerful piece of cinema that tells a story that not many people know about. Even more inspirational is its message that math is not limited to a man’s world. These women are proof that the mind of a woman is just as sharp as or even sharper than that of many men in the mathematical world. Here’s hoping that “Hidden Figures” continues to inspire women to not be afraid to dive into the mathematical and scientific fields, because if you can dream it you can achieve it.