“Hidden Figures” No Longer Hidden Gem For Me
he story of a team of female African-American mathematicians who served a vital role in NASA during the early years of the U.S. space program.” Director: Theodore MelfiWriters: Allison Schroeder, […]
he story of a team of female African-American mathematicians who served a vital role in NASA during the early years of the U.S. space program.”
Director: Theodore Melfi
Writers: Allison Schroeder, Theodore Melfi, Margot Lee Shetterly
Staring: Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe, Kevin Costner
Release Date: January 6, 2017
I know that I am incredibly late to this party, but Hidden Figures (2017) is a fantastic movie. Yes, I am aware that this movie came out in early 2017 and was part of the 2017 Academy Awards. Sue me for getting to it late, but better late than never.
Watching Hidden Figures, it shows how three women followed three different paths and all ended up landing at a groundbreaking moments. Katherine G. Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) are three black women working for NASA at the height of the space race. Each are supremely gifted mathematicians and the audience follows each of them push through barriers and open up broad new frontiers for themselves and other black women following them.
The main character of this transformational journey is Katherine G. Johnson, played by Taraji P. Henson. Johnson is an absolute wiz at geometrical mathematics and her expertise gets her a temp position with some of NASA’s most premiere mathematicians who are working on getting an American into space. Her skills end up being her greatest weapon against many doubters. Johnson was simply the best of the best, and now she was finally getting the chance to show it.
Johnson is put onto a path towards success. She is literally placed there among doubters and no one thought she would rise to the top. Johnson, politely, tells everyone to fuck off and let her cook. She proves people wrong by simply being the best and maximizing her importance in a room full of prejudices.
Dorothy Vaughan, played by Octavia Spencer, is the mother of the group. She is the supervisor for a group of young black women who all work for NASA and help them with various mathematical problems. She constantly pesters her supervisors about getting a true promotion, but is pushed aside despite having the qualifications and really doing the job already. Vaughan is there to place her friends Katherine and Mary Jackson in the best spots to succeed, but there is a moment where she puts herself in a spot to succeed.
Vaughan isn’t placed on a path to forge forward, rather she uncovers one for herself. She sees some part of path in the woods covered by brush and takes a machete to it. When Vaughan sees the computer in NASA, she immediately knows that her (and her work family) timetable at NASA is shrinking. Rather than beg for more time, Vaughan makes time for herself by taking this path she has uncovered. She learns how to use the computer and she trains all her cohorts how to use it too. She uncovers something and adapts.
The young and impulsive friend of this trio is Mary Jackson. Played by Janelle Monáe, Jackson works with Johnson and Vaughan but wants to branch out to a different field. Jackson has an eye for engineering, and there are others who recognize the talents she has for the job. However, her path to getting an engineering position at NASA was riddled with landmines.
People did not want her to have the job. She has to go to court and get permission to take a class that is only meant for white men. She had to find the path outside of NASA, and she had to break it down with a sledge hammer. It wasn’t literally staring her in the face like the computer machine putting Vaughan on a treadmill towards change. She had to go out and face something she didn’t know. She had to go off the original path completely to then get back on it.
All three actresses: Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe did wonderful work. It is a testament to their talents that each of their characters are incredibly identifiable on their own, for their own actions. They are under the same umbrella of pushing boundaries, but each of their journeys is wholly unique.
Besides these three superstars of Hidden Figures, the movie also the ultra recognizable face of Kevin Costner as the leader of John Glen’s trip to space, Al Harrison. If there has even been a Kevin Costner roll, this might be it. A white guy that comes off as an asshole but deep down has a moral compass that is pure. He does not like to push his values onto others, but when he does, he does it with quick vigor and matter-of-factness. The reluctant knight in shining armor.
Kevin Costner was build for this role, and he was very good in it.
Oh, let’s not forget that Glen Powell is in this movie as John Glenn. Jim Parsons plays the work enemy of Katherine Johnson; yes it is weird seeing Parsons be a jerk. And then there is Kirsen Dunst who plays Vivian Mitchell, the suppressing boss of Dorothy Vaughan,. Wait! You want one more award winning actor? Let’s give you Mahershala Ali, who plays Colonel Jim Johnson, eventual husband to Katherine Johnson. Ali would go on to win the Academy Award for Best Actor in Moonlight at the 2017 Oscars.
You look at this cast and it reminds me of the latest Rain Johnson movie, Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (2022). Everyone wanted to be in it. Everyone knew it was something special. Everyone knew that it had a chance to be supremely memorable. There is something special when that comes to pass. When all of Hollywood is clamoring for that one role in that on project. The promise of Hidden Figures was not hidden from anyone.
Hidden Figures was nominated for three Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress for Octavia Spencer, and Best Adapted Screenplay.
Moonlight (2016) (I haven’t seen it…I know it’s bad) won for Best Picture in the classic mishap with La La Land (2016). Of all the nominations from that year, the only movie I don’t recall at all is Lion (2016).
Spencer fell to Viola Davis for Fences (2016), which had the same formula as Hidden Figures with a nomination for Best Picture and Best Supporting Actress. If I were handing out the nominations for this particular movie, I would have had Spencer at the bottom of the totem pole. Every time I saw Janelle Monáe on screen I got more invested, and Taraji P. Henson had the more emotional strings to pull, although she would have more likely been in the lead actress category.
In terms of Best Adapted Screenplay, Moonlight took the crown and that makes sense with the connective tissues between this particular category and Best Picture.
Despite not winning any Oscars, Hidden Figures is not a hidden gem. This movie got praised by everyone, both general and critic audiences a like. The story is told in a profound, emotional way without becoming to Disney-fied. There was maybe one moment where I wish the movie wasn’t rated PG, but that blip passes by without a second thought with the heavy weight performances put forth by all three of the main stars.
Hidden Figures is a story worth telling and I am glad that I finally got to see it. This movie is honestly perfect middle school social studies viewing. If I saw this when I was in eight grade I would have ran home and talked about it non-stop with my parents.
I will stop rambling now. It is not a hard equation to figure out. Hidden Figures is just a fantastic movie.
STANKO RATING: A (4.5/5 Stars)
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