The film, which is slated to open nationwide Jan. 6 (with a limited release Christmas Day) is about the women who helped make possible America’s early salvos in the space race: Russia was about to send a man into orbit, and the U.S. hadn’t been able to get a capsule off the ground without an explosion. President Kennedy wanted to get a man to the moon and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) needed brilliant minds to make that happen.
The math needed to determine launching and landing trajectories, and to design a vehicle that protected a man entering and exiting the earth’s atmosphere, were calculated by mathematicians, then referred to as “computers.” Three of these computers are the women of the hour in Hidden Figures:
- Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) wanted to be a NASA engineer, but lacked educational requirements – requirements that were added after she applied to the training program.
- Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and the women in her department were in danger of losing their jobs to an IBM computing machine.
- Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson) was resented by the department of white male engineers whose math she was assigned to verify so that John Glenn could orbit the earth. Johnson, age 98, now lives in Hampton, VA.
You feel how hard it must have been to be continually underestimated although you were probably the smartest person in the room.
Henson, Monáe, and Spencer have an old-friends level of chemistry onscreen. Fans will be familiar with the work of Oscar winner Spencer and Emmy winner Henson, but Monáe, who provides much of the humor of the film, will be a welcome surprise to moviegoers. She imbues Jackson with candor and ferocity.
Henson, as the glasses-wearing Johnson, shows she can be demure and forceful, and makes the viewer feel how hard it must have been to be continually underestimated although you were probably the smartest person in the room.
Butler, as always, brings a regal bearing and strength to the part of Vaughn, whose ingenuity could be a lesson to anyone trying to get ahead in the technology field.
They were their own champions and spoke truth to power.
Unlike some past movies set during the Civil Rights and Jim Crow eras, this script by Allison Shroeder and director Theodore Melfi (based on the biography of the same name by Margot Lee Sheerly) depicts these women as multidimensional people, who act as their own champions and don’t bend to authority when authority is clearly wrong.
Mahershala Ali, Aldis Hodge, Kevin Costner, and Jim Parsons are the principal males in the cast playing love interests, lead engineer, and head of the NASA’s Langley Facility, respectively.
Hidden Figures is a story told with heart and humor. The film doesn’t try to put people on a pedestal or tell you how to feel, it lets the women’s wondrous accomplishments speak for themselves.