There are two kinds of historical movies: historical movies that try to be as much like a documentary as possible, such as Selma or Schindler’s List, and those movies like Apollo 13 or Titanic. These try to be as mainstream and appealing as possible, or as I like to call it, Hollywood History. Every so often, a movie comes along that attempts to bridge the gap between these two movies, and few have been done better than Hidden Figures. If you study black history, the history of NASA, and the space race between Russia and the United States, or if you are just interested in a heartwarming story involving likable characters, I could not recommend this movie highly enough. To really understand why this movie pieces together so well, we must cut into the meat and dissect it bit by bit.
Hidden Figures is a true story that centers around three African American women named Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn, and Mary Jackson . These three women were “human computers” at NASA during the Cold War between the United States and Soviet Union. The determination of these women allowed them to play pivotal roles in getting famed astronaut John Glenn in and out of orbit. Unfortunately, these women never really got the fame and appreciation they deserved, mostly due to the ingrained racism and sexism in the 1960s.
Overall, I thought everything pieced together really well. The film did a good job at showing the high racial tensions and mass hysteria of the Red Scare in the 1960s. It does not necessarily paint anyone as “the bad guy,” but it does show the unique separation between subtle and overt racism, an aspect of social issues that is often overlooked to this very day. The plot was really factually accurate but is Hollywood enough to keep the viewers’ attention and not just come off as a documentary. There is also a bit of comic relief, but it is not a major focus, and fortunately does not take away from the plot.
With a good plot comes good actors, and the choices in Hidden Figures were definitely tough to top. Tiaraji P. Henson, who is best known for movies like the remake of The Karate Kid and television shows like “Empire”, does a great job at portraying the smart, highly gifted and highly devoted Katherine. Octavia Spencer is amazing when it comes to playing Dorothy, a woman who is not afraid to step out of her comfort zone and will stop at nothing to take the risks necessary to succeed. Spencer has a lot of experience doing movies like this. For example, she starred a leading role as Minny Jackson in the 2011 movie The Help, in which she won an Oscar. It is a film about a black maid working for a white man, and the hardships they go through. Finally, Janelle Monae, an exceptional R&B singer with a range comparable to Whitney Houston, plays the role as Mary Jackson, who while often beaten down, still manages to get what she deserves.
If you are interested in history like me, you will know that despite a movie being good, having a good plot, or even having competent actors, historical accuracy is often taken for granted in lieu of trying to tell a more interesting story (notable examples include Titanic and Pearl Harbor). Hidden Figures on the other hand, tries to come as close as possible to historical accuracy. From aspects like the personalities of the characters to even small things like historically acurate cars and even the appearance of the parking lot at NASA, no expense was saved to cast the audience back to the time period. Moreover, a lot of the source material came from a book entitled Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the untold story of the Black Women Mathematicians who Helped Win The Space Race, which is also very historicily accurate and well researched.
At the time of my writing this, Hidden Figures, as well as one of the main actors Octavia Spencer, are being nominated for the 2017 Academy Awards. Personally, I think it more than deserves to win. It showcases a heartwarming story that, due to our own ignorance, has been lost through the sands of time. It shows us just how far we have come in terms of fighting racism in the United States, and the strides we have been able to make in just over 50 years. Examples of this include having to fight in court to get into an all white school, to having to fight harder than anyone else to move up in their job, and even a scene where Katherine had to walk half a mile outside the building where she was working to go to the bathroom, just because of her skin color. It is just scenes like those which just amaze and astound me as to the vast amount of progress we as a government and as a civilization have made. Whether you are black or white, male or female, human or non-human, I can not recommend Hidden Figures highly enough.
Written by Logan Deiner
IMDB Rating: 7.9
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 93%
Approx. Runtime: 2 hrs 7 mins