History lessons can often be a bore. That is, unless you’re being taught something generally interesting that has significance to your own life. As Americans, the 1960’s space race is something that is ingrained in our history. And thanks to the phenomenal research of author Margot Lee Shetterly, we now have a new wrinkle to a familiar story that should inspire us all.
Hidden Figures tells the real life story of three African American women who overcame racial prejudice to help pioneer the first American space mission. Taraji P. Henson portrays Katherine G. Johnson, a mathematical genius who works under Space Task Group Director, Al Harrison (Kevin Costner), to plot the successful trajectory of the first American orbit around the Earth. Octavia Spencer plays Dorothy Vaughn, a NASA mathematician and natural born leader fighting for a much deserved promotion with her white supervisor (Kirsten Dunst). Lastly, Janelle Monae portrays Mary Jackson, a brilliant woman seeking to become NASA’s first African American female engineer.
The problem that plagues most biographical films is pacing. Even a phenomenal film like Selma had its occasional slow moments, but Hidden Figures manages to avoid these narrative lulls. The movie juggles its subplots beautifully, and smartly puts most of its focus on Katherine and her struggles to traverse a hostile environment along with her romance to a military colonel (Mahershala Ali).
The other women get their time to shine, but it is ultimately Katherine’s story that provides the most powerful moments. From an immensely powerful scene involving segregated bathrooms to all of the endearing dialogue shared between Henson and Costner, Katherine Johnson’s story becomes the epitome of the struggle between race relations as well as the ultimate theme of accomplishing goals through unification.
The film is filled with the uncomfortably unsubtle prejudices of our past, but by the end every heinous character has experienced growth. In the month when we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day and just before Black History Month, a film that reminds us that we can only progress if we are unified against our worst natures is incredibly pertinent. Having a magnetic cast of actresses and actors capable of bringing charm and fervor to their roles is certainly a plus too.
FINAL GRADE: A, a must see