As Black History Month is almost here, I figured it was time to participate early and write a film review about some of the pioneers of the civil rights movement in America, although not the ones that would first come to mind. Hidden Figures is the untold story about three black women who worked for NASA in Virginia during the “Space Race” with Russia. The three women in this film are Katherine G. Johnson (played by Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (played Octavia Spencer), and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae). Based on the book of the same title, these stories were not brought to light until very recently, and the book was not published until much later, these women were unsung heroes in the civil rights movement.
Since the story was not made public until recently, very few people know about it, and that makes it one of Hidden Figures’ biggest strengths. The one downside to making movies made in history is that if you read up, you know how the movie should end. When watching Titanic, you know the ship is going to sink, civil war movies end with the North winning the war, and you get my point. With the story not being made public until recently, the only way you would know about it is if you directly worked with these women or know someone who did. Also adding to this, Hidden figures is in a very small pool of movies of its kind: how many movies are there about women of color who overcame the odds of their workplace during the time in which American segregation? If there are any others I don’t know about them, so please leave their titles in the comments section so I can watch them.
While the story itself is very strong, it is told with an equal amount of strength, helping put this film in the top five movies of the year. The script here is actually a work of real brilliance because it takes a very skilled hand to make paperwork and math problems look interesting. In reality, there is not all that much of your typical movie excitement (explosions, guns, etc) however, all of the math and paperwork Katherine goes through comes across as downright intriguing, which as someone who hates both math and paperwork, is a very big compliment.
The other major factor this movie has going for it is the acting from everyone.
Jim Parsons gives a solid performance as the employee who doesn’t want civil rights to change, and Kevin Costner gives his most enjoyable performance since Waterworld (I will defend that movie until death). However, it is each of the three main women in this movie that really seal the deal. Each one of them gave their performance all they had and is definitely Oscar-worthy. While all of them are worthy of an Oscar (Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae for supporting actress), Taraji P. Henson is the real standout and gives a lightning in a bottle performance that I doubt she will be able to replicate later in her career. She manages to portray every possible emotion throughout the movie and had me convinced she was the actual Katherine Johnson. As you can already tell from the description of the plot, segregation is alive and well in the United States, and our three protagonists are in the thick of it.
Johnson’s character is put under very possible trying circumstance imaginable. Due to segregation, she has her own coffee pot, has to walk 20 minutes to use the nearest “colored” bathroom, and is pretty much ignored outside of when somebody absolutely must speak with her for some reason. Due to being a woman, her capabilities are constantly questioned, she is constantly ignored due to people thinking her opinion doesn’t matter, there are more restrictions on her wardrobe than there are for the men, and she is a single mother on top of everything else. Out of every character portrayed in cinema this, she is the one that is the most inspiring. If I had to walk 20 minutes to and from the restroom to relieve myself, I would have quit my job. If I had been at a job in which every possible statistic was stacked against me for me to fail, I also would have quit.
The fact that the real Katherine Johnson was able to overcome all of these things and become a leading force in NASA’s calculations is flat-out one of the most inspiring of all time. She did what she had to do and did it with pizazz. She took the racism and sexism and shoved it back in the faces of those provided it. She is the story and the main reason why women of color have the freedom and jobs that they do already (although there is still a lot of work that needs to be done still). Taking this character and providing it with a performance of a lifetime from Henson is exactly the kind of spark needed to reignite my inner-social justice warrior. After watching this movie, I, as a white man, wanted to punch white supremacy in its face and get rid of it once and for all. I’ve always wanted to do this, but my desire to do it greatly increased after watching Hidden Figures.
Should you see Hidden Figures? Absolutely. You should watch this movie to support the representation of people in cinema who are not Caucasian. You should watch this movie to know about actual real-life events in history that you did not know about before. You should watch this movie because it empowers women. You should watch this film because it is inspirational for anyone who has a sense of social justice. You should watch this film because it is a great film with absolutely no flaws. You should just watch this film.