Released in the UK January 2017
One thing is for certain: we need more films like ‘Hidden Figures’. With so many influential, important people and stories written out of those we think we know, it’s time more of them stepped into the spot light.
‘Hidden Figures’ tells the story of three extraordinarily gifted women who were pivotal at NASA as they fought to take the lead in the Space Race – three extraordinary women who were subsequently marginalised (in invisible ink, it would seem) in the history books. Not only were they facing the grotesque racism directed at African-Americans, but also the grim prejudices weighing heavily on women at the time; in combination, the fact that they persevered to become such influential figures makes for a phenomenal story. Fighting racism, segregation and seemingly insurmountable odds at every turn, they managed to stand their ground and make a very real difference.
Impressively, while the film deals with emotionally charged issues, it never falls victim to the flaw of heavy-handed or preachy sentimentality; it lets the brilliant characters and the story itself make the lasting impressions. We see the women at home, in their warm, funny friendship wrapped in solidarity, in the community as they come face to face with a decidedly concerning white police officer, and at work, where they face their biggest fights. Seeing the three women in all aspects of their lives makes the story all the more gripping and affecting – they are no longer unknown names with no details attached to them, they are three thoroughly developed, formidable characters finally showing the world what they did. To build in sweet, funny moments amongst the dire social history so skilfully is no easy feat, and director Theodore Melfi (also responsible for the screenplay, along with Allison Schroeder) does it with class. ‘Hidden Figures’ is one of those special films which makes time fly by in the background, and it’s utterly enthralling.
With fantastic performances by Taraji P.Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Morae, playing Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn and Mary Jackson respectively, the film has little choice but to be a heavy-weight success. I’d only seen Henson as the outrageous Cookie Lyons in ‘Empire’ previously, and I thought the transformation into this role as the intense mathematician was stunning. She shreds the heartstrings as we watch her handle daily racism and torment with grace and an untouchable inner dignity. I knew Spencer was a powerhouse, having seen her in ‘The Help’ and she knocks it out of the park again in this role – as the forward-thinking, determined and ever versatile Vaughn, she portrays Vaughn’s unshakeable strength and her compulsion to respectfully champion the talents of both herself and her team. I’d not seen Morae before, but she’s certainly in my radar now; as the youngest of the women, she typifies the gritty determination of the suppressed and unseen, giving us no choice but to feel her palpable joy when she overcomes rage-inducing prejudice.
Performances also of note are those of Kevin Costner, who endears as Al Harrison, the first to see the light and Jim Parsons, who shows that he is just as great in a dramatic role as he is in a comic role (as Sheldon, in The Big Bang Theory) – seeing Parsons play a risible, entitled racist was shocking and therefore a brilliant performance.
There’s no weak link in this movie, I recommend it with wide eyed conviction, and I cannot talk to anyone about it without emphatic use of hands and eyebrows, such is my love for this film. I know that I’ll be getting the DVD as soon as it is released, and I’ll be watching it for years – it’s still in cinemas though, so I suggest you get yourself to a showing ASAP!