Hidden Figures movie review: Three women fight misogyny to send a man into space
With Hidden Figures, let the stories of three geniuses tell you how a woman, despite several hurdles, can still cross the finish line. While it may be difficult to see her in the crowd, we know she is there, running and leaping over the bars. Taraji P Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae, Kevin Costner play lead roles in the film.movie reviews Updated: Feb 17, 2017 17:20 IST
Director: Theodore Melfi
Cast: Taraji P Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae, Kevin Costner
Unlike what our present circumstances would have us believe, right now is not so bad for seeking equality of gender and races. Hidden Figures, however, tells the story of the struggle for acceptance. Adapted from the bestselling book by Margot Lee Shetterly and helmed by second-time director Theodore Melfi, the film is based on the true stories of three black women working for Nasa in 1961’s United States of America.
These women, played by Taraji P Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae, were key to sending a man into space and hence launching a journey to later reach the moon. Hidden Figures is a hopeful, inspiring recognition of the personal fights against racism and misogyny that these and so many other women had to face to realise their dreams.
It is the early 60’s and the race between the US and Russia to make the space their home had never been more gruelling. In the many meeting rooms at Nasa, where men struggle with numbers and women strut around in high heels, there are three black women who deserve to be the ones at the forefront of the mission rather than just ‘compute’ numbers in a basement.
Katherine Goble (Henson) gets an opportunity to join the big league, where ideas are floated and decisions are made. Only too bad for her, no ‘coloured’ man had ever been selected for it, let alone a ‘coloured’ woman. There is a separate empty kettle for her tea but not a separate bathroom for her. To relieve herself, she has to run to the other end of the campus, half-a-mile away to the ‘coloured ladies room’. Despite all these challenges, her brilliance as a mathematician makes sure she shines the brightest among her tea-fed, often relieved, white male colleagues.
Dorothy Vaughan (Spencer), who fears becoming obsolete with the installation of the computers, the kind we know now by that name, decides to teach herself and her fellow black women employees to work on the machines. Mary Jackson (Monae) aspires to be an engineer at Nasa, something no African American women had ever done. Their struggle is what drives the story forward and their success is what rewards us.
Melfi does a stellar job of keeping his film simple and still managing to get so many emotions out of it. There is an all-too-familiar trope: The underdog protagonist is met with challenges but wins over them in the end. But because Hidden Figures manages to apply the formula effectively to tell an already inspiring story, it all works in the film’s favour.
There is a clear demarcation between who is good and who is wrong and the moral compass is wound up tight. We know who to root for and who to judge for their bigotry, making it easy for everyone to enjoy the film without being bothered to look for nuances, just basking in one wholesome emotion at a time. When a man insults a woman, she firmly gets angry and so you get angry. When a figure of authority dismantles a symbol of prejudice, you feel elated like everyone else in the scene. When a man proposes to a woman, you only feel joy, like the protagonist and all those around her.
All the three lead actors are allowed their moment of brilliance. After walking out of the theatre and letting the film soak in your mind, you will remember the film as a whole for being as inspiring and as fulfilling as it was. However, you will remember Henson for her calling out her racist co-workers, Spencer for her conversation with Kristen Dunst in the ladies room and Monae for when she approached the bench. A single scene in each one’s kitty. Thus, it becomes difficult to digest Spencer’s Oscar nomination for the film.
Nitpicking aside, this is a heart-warming film and not one to be missed if you have lately been running low on inspiration in life. Let the stories of three geniuses tell you how a woman, despite several hurdles, can still cross the finish line. While it may be difficult to see her in the crowd, we know she is there, running and leaping over the bars. In good time, we will be able to see her and she won’t stay hidden anymore.
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