Hidden Figures (2016) – Film Review
Hidden Figures is a fascinating Oscar nominated film based on the little known story of African-American women working as mathematicians, programmers and engineers at NASA during the early days of the American space programme.
Starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae as Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson.
All three women overcame racial and sexual discrimination in the early 1960s to become pioneers in their technical fields at NASA.
Johnson was a ‘computer’ who performed and checked a lot of the mathematics required for the space programme and was on the team that helped with the early Mercury space programme.
Vaughan became a talented programmer and supervisor while Mary Jackson fought to be admitted to a college course which would qualify her to become an engineer.
Against a backdrop of segregation, racism and sexist attitudes the women are challenged in well-written set pieces each illustrating chapters in their lives.
The plot, featuring fine support from Kevin Costner as Al Harrison, the man in charge of the Space Task Group at NASA, has been beautifully engineered to be a very accessible retelling of what became Project Mercury from the point of view of the lead women.
Costner, looking like he’s come straight out of Oliver Stone’s JFK or Roger Donaldson’s Thirteen Days, gives the film plenty of gravitas as Harrison.
I found Katherine Johnson’s story the most engaging although Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson’s tales were also interesting and they supported Taraji P. Henson’s performance well.
Hidden Figures a heartwarming story
Historians might argue the film plays a bit fast and loose with the facts and some characters don’t appear to correlate with reality – Jim Parsons of Big Bang Theory fame and Kirsten Dunst play composite characters who represent prevailing attitudes of the time at NASA.
There were several fist-pumping cinematic moments which drew positive reactions from the cosmopolitan audience in my screening, and it was clear that we were all willing to go along with what was eventually a very positive and heartwarming story.
If there was to be a criticism of this ‘true tale’ some of the challenging illustrations of segregation and discrimination in America were glossed over but this was never intended to be that gritty a story.
Thankfully, this film retained a lighter and more human touch, leaving title cards at the end to show the real hidden figures behind the story – perhaps an encouragement to the audience to look up more about them perhaps starting with the book that has inspired this film.
Hidden Figures (PG; discrimination theme, mild bad language; 127 minutes)
Summary: HIDDEN FIGURES is a drama, based on true events, about a group of African-American women who were hired by NASA for their skills in mathematics to be a part of America’s space programme in the 1960s.