Daniel Pollock, Online Reporter
Hidden Figures, wide-released to theaters on Jan. 6, tells the true story of three African-American women working for NASA in the 1960s.
The film opens with a young Katherine Goble (played by Taraji P. Henson) counting prime numbers while kicking a pinecone. Katherine’s extraordinary mind for math gives her the opportunity to attend college at age 15. Later when working for NASA, Goble is recruited as a ‘computer,’ a mathematician designated to work on the calculations for the flight of the spacecraft Friendship 7, the capsule famously controlled by astronaut John Glenn.
When first entering her new workplace, Goble is mistaken for ‘help’ and is given a wastebasket to empty, the segregation on the NASA campus is also shown as Goble runs half a mile to the only ‘colored’ bathroom.
Henson’s performance is perhaps the best in the film. She captures the highs and lows of her position as a black woman in a workplace as white as the shirts all her make coworkers seem to wear.
Figures also follows Dorothy Vaughn (played by Octavia Spencer), who is fighting for the title of supervisor of the ‘colored computers,’ a group of African-American female mathematicians. Vaughn was given the role of supervisor unofficially, meaning no title and no higher pay.
When NASA brings in an IBM computer, Vaughn fears for her own career at NASA and the careers of the ‘computers’ below her. The IBM machine can compute thousands of numbers in minutes. Vaughn begins studying the machine, hoping to take the role of supervisor over it. Spencer’s performance as Vaughn earned her a Golden Globe nomination.
Throughout the film, Vaughn is seen alongside white coworker Vivian Mitchell (played by Kirsten Dunst). Dunst is the biggest and worst mistake Director Theodore Melfi made in this film. Her portrayal of the villainous Mitchell was sometimes laughable and other times groan inducing. Dunst’s overacted performance makes viewers wonder if she went to teenage Disney Channel stars for inspiration.
The third woman the film focuses on is Mary Jackson (played by singer Janelle Monáe). Jackson is also a mathematician for NASA but she yearns to be an aerospace engineer. When she applies for an open position at NASA, Jackson is informed certain classes are required before applying—classes only offered at a segregated school. But, Jackson won’t stop pursuing her goal.
The film is flavored with comedy, much of which is imparted from Monáe’s character, but viewers will find much to laugh at in the banter shared between all three women.
The feel-good tone and humor makes Figures a fun watch. But, overall it’s best described as ‘Oscar bait,’a movie specifically produced to garner Academy Award nominations. Though Figures won’t be remembered in future years like some of the other pictures from 2016, it’s still an enjoyable film and the story it tells is one worth knowing.
As character’s discuss sitting in the back of buses or at lunch counters, audience members may be reminded of another historical event unfolding at the time of Hidden Figures—the Civil Rights Movement headed by Martin Luther King Jr.
The women showcased in this film refuse to let the segregation and racism of the time control their lives and dictate their success.
On the upcoming MLK holiday Americans should remember not just its namesake, but also those—like the women in this film—who fought against injustice, those who changed the world by refusing to let oppression oppress them.
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