Log in

No account? Create an account
entries friends calendar profile Previous Previous Next Next
Hidden Figures - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Hidden Figures
Directing: B+
Acting: B+
Writing: B
Cinematography: B
Editing: A-

If you want a cultural tonic in the midst of our country's toxic political climate, then look no further than Hidden Figures, arguably the most inspiring story being told in theatres right now. Much like Moonlight, this movie covers two types of prejudice at once: racism and sexism. But it does it with the right amount of subtlety, putting story first: and this is about not one, but three women of color who were far ahead of their time, working in the space program at NASA in the sixties.

Of course, being "based on true events" and coming out of Hollywood, the story is transparently taken over in a multitude of ways by artistic license. To be fair, this is the biggest criticism there can be of Hidden Figures, and it's not much of one. Even when it comes to true stories, that’s the business these people are in: entertaining us. This movie just happens to be doing it by telling the untold story of several women of color, and in so doing offering something long overdue on mainstream American movie screens: putting serious female actors of color in not just one, but multiple lead roles. It's a nice change, and hopefully not a temporary one, to see such a shift away from last year's "Oscar So White" brouhaha. Hidden Figures is one of several films to thank for this, and it isn't even the best, but it's just as worthy of being seen.

Here we have math genius Katherine Goble (Taraji P. Henson), who becomes the first black woman in the group of white male engineers in the Space Task Group that's calculating launch and landing for the astronauts. Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) is acting supervisor of the black women "computers" from which Goble is drawn, and also ultimately becomes NASA's first official black woman supervisor. And then, rounding out this group of three close friends, is Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe, also seen this year as the drug dealer's wife in Moonlight), also one of the "computers," who goes on to become NASA's first black female engineer.

In all three cases, we see how these women managed to get ahead in the face of odds most people -- especially white people -- can't imagine today. At the time, their work stations were literally segregated. But as depicted in Hidden Figures, the space race -- getting ahead of the Soviet Union with satellites and manned space missions -- takes precedence over prejudices.

Granted, there are some relatively clichéd depictions of white people learning their lessons in regards to racism. The big boss here, Space Task Group director Al Harrison, is played with appropriate understatement by Kevin Costner in a supporting role that is one of his best performances in a long time. Still, the movie offers us a scene of him smashing a "Colored Women" restroom sign that seems designed for getting white audiences to pat themselves on the back for cheering. Kirsten Dunst, also appropriately understated, has a scene that plays a little better: "Despite what you may think, I have nothing against y'all.," she says to Dorothy. And Dorothy replies, kindly, "I know. I know you probably believe that." Every white person, even today, should seriously consider the degree to which that may apply to them. Jim Parsons is STG head engineer Paul Stafford, and he, at least, ultimately comes to a place of begrudging respect as opposed to "warming up" to Katherine being in the group. That's not exactly heroic, of course, but at least it feels more realistic to the era.

That said, Hidden Figures is much more about what these women fought for than it is about what they fought against. This would be a worthy story if it were about women of any color (and again, even by today's standards, getting female-led movies made and with wide distribution is its own accomplishment), but this is a uniquely compelling one. Unless you're astoundingly ignorant, it's a movie that really should have something for everyone, not least of which would be the science and space nerds out there. Of course, the script has plenty of examples of dialogue that serves more as exposition for layman ears than as any conversation that would actually happen between these geniuses. They would never talk to each other in such simple terms as though they were five-year-olds. But, we in the audience obviously have to hear it that way or else we'll never understand what the hell they're talking about.

These things distract me more as an obsessive movie buff than they ever will the average movie-goer. And Hidden Figures is a crowd pleaser all-around, which is exactly what it should be. It shows us blackboards covered in complicated math formulas that we don't have to understand, because we're much more interested in the human story that director Theodore Melfi (St. Vincent) is deftly offering us. It may oversimplify the science, the politics, and the history, but it does so in all the right ways -- the ways that get audiences in seats and then telling their friends what a great time they had. Simplified or not, the real story and this story are equally uplifting, leaving audiences compelled to cheer.

hidden figures</a>

Overall: B+
Leave a comment