Hidden Figures is the remarkable true story of Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, and how they helped the USA send a man into space.
The three African-American women mentioned above helped pave the way for the United States to beat the Soviets in the space-race, in what was a time of serious segregation between races in the late 50’s/early 60’s.
This segregation plays an important role in the film’s narrative, by displaying the true hardships African-American residents had to face in times where, as it relates to the film, their skills and efforts were so crucial in aiding the American government achieve a feat that would forever become cemented in world history. It’s quite saddening to see some of these scenes play out in the film, however director Theodore Melfi handles them with poise while still allowing the audience to fill with indignation. While we feel for our protagonists, the acknowledgement of these issues is still rather light, and you can argue it’s where the film suffers most. The film is however, more about the tremendous accomplishment of Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson) and friends more than anything, which is amazing to see in itself, however the dramatic weight of the story is significantly reduced because of it.
Focusing primarily on the film’s race relations would have made Hidden Figures a completely different film though, and one that may have been less palatable to audiences. Melfi finds the correct balance between shock and awe, serving up a generally entertaining film that has the ability to inspire audiences of all races and creeds. The film’s pacing will have you hooked from start to finish, with only a couple segments that tend to drag on a bit. These issues are made up for with the excellent performances by the film’s principal cast, as well as the lighthearted humour that runs throughout the film.
The three leads that include Henson, Janelle Monáe (as Mary Jackson) and Octavia Spencer (as Dorothy Vaughan) all excel in their roles, and convey a natural chemistry between them, making for genuine, relatable performances. Kevin Costner is great as the stern, yet sympathetic NASA boss, and Kirsten Dunst and Jim Parsons do their best bad-guy impersonations in what would appear to be the only two antagonistic roles in the film, however their best work here does come across as a bit stiff for the most part.
Hidden Figures‘ story is key to the entertainment value of this film. It’s fair to say that it’s not a very well-known story and one that deserves to be heard and seen by all audiences. Who would have thought that a group of unimposing, modest African-Amercian women would literally have a hand in shaping the future, in a time that treated them like outcasts? It’s hard to believe, but thankfully the story of these women is now out in the world for all to see.
When Taraji P. Henson signed on for the lead role, she met with the real-life Katherine Johnson, who was 98 years old, to discuss the character she was about to portray. Henson learned that Johnson had graduated from high school at age 14 and from college at age 18, and was still as lucid as anyone years younger. After the film was screened for Johnson, she expressed her genuine approval of Henson’s portrayal, but wondered why anybody would want to make a film about her life.