Rated: PG | Running Time: 127 Minutes
From: Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment
Available on Digital HD: March 28, 2017
Available on DVD, Blu-ray, and 4K Ultra HD: April 11, 2017
Get it via : Amazon | iTunes
Three women working at NASA as an engineer, a mathematician, and a computer scientist, in the early 1960’s would be story enough. Have them be three, strong-willed, African-American women, women with the desire to live the life they believe they were destined to live, in a United States that was a lot less close to acceptance of African-Americans than it is today, and you have history. It’s a history many people don’t realize occurred, nor the influence these three, African-American women had on that history, but damn, it’s a great story, and a great movie.
It’s “Hidden Figures.”
It’s 1961. It’s the space race. It’s the state of Virginia. Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson) is fantastic at math, Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) is a computer scientist though she doesn’t know it yet, and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) is an engineer. The three of them are working at NASA, in Langley, Virginia, and things are still segregated. As the movie goes things are tense at NASA as the Russians are taking the lead in the space race. They’ve sent Sputnik into space, they’ve shot Yuri Gagarin into space, and the mostly boys at NASA are still having trouble with the math, their new computer, and keeping the space capsule together.
Enter Katherine, Dorothy, and Mary. As things wondrously work out for NASA Katherine gets moved into the department working on the trajectory of the spacecraft as a math-checker, Mary ends up in the engineering department, and Dorothy has the wherewithal to realize computers are the future, and takes her own initiative to become the best programmer she can be. The challenge? Doing all of this in the still segregated world of 1961.
The movie moves along, and we see some of the struggles that the ladies had working in a society that was truly male-dominated, and for the most part, racist. This is still the world of separate but not equal, where coffee pots were labeled for whites and colored, where there was riding in the back of the bus, and crappy bathrooms for the African-Americans and lovely bathrooms for the whites. Katherine gets no respect as a mathematician because of her gender and race; Mary has the respect of her supervisor, Olek (Kalr Zielinski), because he is a Polish, Jewish, immigrant and doesn’t care about her color or gender, but she has the problem of not being able to be promoted because she can’t get the extended education needed at a segregated school; and Dorothy works as a supervisor but doesn’t get the recognition from Vivian (Kirsten Dunst), her “I’m not racist,” yet acts the racist boss.
What to do? Katherine does what she does best, analytic geometry, and computes circles, or rather trajectories, around her co-workers, gaining the respect of her boss, Al Harrison (Kevin Costner), and astronaut John Glenn (Glen Powell). Mary takes her plight to court, convincing the judge that she should be allowed in the all-white school to continue her education, and she scores a victory to continue on as a NASA engineer. Dorothy sees that her and her co-workers days are numbered with the introduction of the IBM computer, what with their being “human computers,” so she learns Fortran (ahh, the Aerospace Engineer in me started having flashbacks!), teaches her African-American team of co-workers to work with the massive computer, and suddenly their worth overshadows the color of their skin.
Was life fair for an African-American woman in Virginia in 1961? Hell no, but “Hidden Figures” shows that human will and desire can overcome a lot. And thank God! Sure, the movie kind of portrayed the white males as, well, not as bright, and for the movie it helped elevate the genius of the ladies, but it was a necessity to help differentiate the struggles of the women, and spotlight the importance of the women in the space race.
In the end “Hidden Figures” is a fabulous movie. You get women empowerment, you get racial empowerment, you get geek-nerd empowerment, and you see how great science can be. The movie also has fabulous acting, with the trio of ladies able to portray their characters with both gentleness and strength, and as I was watching Jim Parsons as mathematician/engineer, it occurred to me that his character acting was wonderful, in his constant skepticism of Katherine, because I realized he had very few speaking lines in his role, mostly just looks and mannerisms of “Why do I have to deal with this woman?”
Is the movie completely accurate in its portrayals of the events that occurred? Nope. It’s a movie “based on actual events” kind of film, but from most of the things I’ve read it keeps with the spirit of the story, the struggles of the women, and the challenges NASA had at the time to get a man into space.
The “geek” in me loved it. The “always wishing I could have been an astronaut” in me loved it. The “appreciator of the human spirit” loved it. “Hidden Figures” gets 5 stars out of 5.
I haven’t reviewed the extras on the disc versions as I haven’t gotten a copy as of this writing, and I’ll update the review should I see them, but the listing shows a boat-load of things including the “Making of…”, deleted scenes, commentary and the like, so if you are looking for a deeper look into the movie, they will probably be a good bet.
That’s it for this one! L8R!!