Friday, February 24, 2017

Review of HIDDEN FIGURES: Inspirational Intellect and Integrity

February 2017

"Hidden Figures" is a film that recounts the largely-unheralded contributions of African-American women at the NASA at the height of the space race in the 1960s. It was directed and co-written by Theodore Melfi based on Margot Lee Shetterly's biographical book of the same title. It has been nominated for three Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress for Spencer. Its chances to win Best Picture is boosted by its strong box-office showing and its SAG Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture

It was 1961 and Segregation was still the norm. Three African American women, math prodigy Katherine Goble and her friends Mary Jackson and Dorothy Vaughan, bucked the system and got jobs in a research division for NASA. Goble eventually got assigned to compute rocket flight trajectories for the Space Task Group, where she worked hard to gain the confidence of her boss Al Harrison. Meanwhile, Jackson pursued an engineering degree and Vaughan figured out the complex IBM computer systems. 

Taraji P. Henson leads the cast as Katherine Goble, a mathematician who proved that sheer talent can still shine through serious adversity with dedication and hard work. Ms. Goble had to work under oppressive conditions and attitudes, including having to run 20 minutes to a colored bathroom all the way on the other side of the complex just to use the toilet. Henson gave such a powerful and empowering performance here. I was surprised was snubbed for Best Actress consideration at the Oscars. 

Academy Award winner Octavia Spencer (for "The Help") did get Oscar notice again this year. Her turn as Dorothy Vaughan, a responsible secretary taking on supervisorial duties, had sass and vigor, but for me, this is a performance typical of her. Janelle MonĂ¡e played Mary Jackson as a pretty and perky woman who aspired to become an engineer despite it being a white male dominated career option. 

It was good to see Kevin Costner in the role of Space Task Group director Al Harrison (a fictional composite character, not an actual person) who did not allow race to get in the way of recognizing ability and effort. His scene with the "colored bathroom" sign packed a big statement. Jim Parsons basically played head engineer Paul Stafford as his signature snooty Big Bang Theory character Sheldon Cooper. 

A very mature-looking Kirsten Dunst played the icy cold office supervisor Vivian Mitchell. Glen Powell played a very charismatic and young-looking pioneer astronaut John Glenn. Current Best Supporting Actor favorite Mahershala Ali (for "Moonlight") is also here as Katherine's suitor, mild-mannered soldier Jim Johnson.

"Hidden Figures" is currently the biggest box-office hit among the nine Best Picture nominees. It is a more traditionally-executed mainstream feature that is easy for audiences from all walks of life to understand and appreciate. The story being told is very interesting (I enjoy watching well-told historical films) and inspirational (race-wise and gender-wise). The story-telling style is conventional but engaging. The ensemble award it received from SAG is a surprise but well-deserved. But saying that it will parlay that big SAG win to a Best Picture award over "La La Land" may be too much to wish for. 8/10. 


  1. I was watching the Oscars and when these ladies actually brought in NASA physicist Katherine Johnson on a wheelchair I was so so touched! Women still have miles to go and in 1960 I can't imagine how difficult it would have been, that too in such a demanding job!

  2. Reading the plot points made me interested in the movie. I'd also be nice to see the space race at its inception.

  3. Wow, what women cannot do?!! very inspiring...I read about this in Oscar coverage.

  4. It became a big hit maybe because it gave viewers another dimension of film to watch for. And the fact that it highlights women's contribution is such a powerful pull.

  5. It`s good that there are movies like "Hidden Figures" that showcase the contribution of women. This movie is a big hit most probably because of the main theme. I want to see this movie.