**Spoilers from here to the moon**
You know it’s a good movie when a blog writes itself. When you sit there in the audience and can already see the words streaming past you. There are no embellishments needed. No searching for words or meanings or “how can I say this another way and still be polite” kind of mentality.
In short, Hidden Figures was a pleasure to watch.
Now, I watch movies all the time. And I always get enjoyment from them. Usually I focus on a specific aspect: the music, the acting, the special effects, or some other quality but I always get some sort of enjoyment from whatever I’m watching for. However, it’s rare when it all comes together into a beautiful masterpiece and I can say that watching a movie brought me genuine pleasure.
The fact that it is based on actual people makes it even more amazing than it already was. I’ve always been heavily invested in science fiction and action, eagerly watching the deeds of those who seemed braver and crazier than I could ever be in an attempt to escape an average life. But I’m beginning to realize that our own history is far more interesting and filled with acts of bravery and courage that no alien planet or superspy could ever dare to come to close to demonstrating.
Hidden Figures follows the storylines of three strong, independent, genius-level African American women: Katherine, Dorothy, and Mary who manage to turn NASA head-over heels in a time where being either African American or a woman usually got you nowhere. All three women worked during the 1960s at what was considered the pinnacle of American involvement in space (See? You knew space had to be in there somewhere – it’s me). At a time when segregation was still prominent despite new Federal regulations, at Langley, it was still heavily enforced with separate bathrooms, drinking fountains, right down to the coffee machines.
For most of the younger generation, a world without computers would be unimaginable. However, these three women were literally known as human computers. As in they could complete calculations and mathematical equations at an unprecedented rate of speed. This movie follows them through their varying assignments at NASA as they continue to prove again and again that they were always the smartest person in the room. And all three played an integral part in sending John Glenn into space and bringing him back home safely.
Katherine Goble was at the heart of this story and was played by Taraji P. Henson. Katherine was a widow with three daughters who found herself playing computer in the Space Task Group run by Kevin Costner’s Al Harrison. She had to combat hostile coworkers (in the form of Jim Parsons – who continues to play a neurotic jerk only without his loveable quirks from The Big Bang Theory), segregated bathrooms, and distrust of her own mathematical abilities all while juggling being a single mother. She also managed to find love in the form of Colonel Johnson played by Mahershala Ali. She succeeded in not only impressing her boss, but also caught the attention of John Glenn himself (ironically played by Glen Powell) who trusted her word above all the IBM computers in the world. She was sweet, and modest, and tough as nails when she needed to be and most importantly, she knew how to get the job done.
The next storyline followed Dorothy Vaughn, another strong, independent woman who could only have been played by Octavia Spencer. Dorothy had spent a year doing the job of a supervisor, yet because of the color of her skin, had been unable to advance to the actual job. She managed the entire department of “Colored Computers” who she dispensed throughout Langley to assist in all manner of calculations. However, she was not just another supervisor, she was a genius in her own right, particularly when it came to mechanics. That was how she found herself in charge of the first IBM computer at NASA, as she was the only person who could actually figure out how it worked. It was her and her team that provided most of the know-how and experience with the computers that helped send John Glenn into space. It was her courage and foresight that allowed her to save her department and turn them into some of the world’s first computer programmers. Her foil was the head of the “White Computers” who had higher clearance levels, better pay, and working conditions, known as Vivian Mitchell. It was a surprisingly grown-up Kirsten Dunst who played Mrs. Mitchell and actually played her character well. It was a role that was a far cry from her teenage school spirit days.
The last storyline followed Mary Jackson played by Janelle Monáe. Mary was another genius woman who after being encouraged by the head engineer played by Olek Krupka, she fought for her right to attend a segregated white school so that she could become the first African American and first woman engineer to work at NASA. She was responsible for ensuring the safety and the design of the capsule that eventually catapulted John Glenn into space. Her husband was played by Aldis Hodge which I was pleased to see. He was a brilliant hacker in the tv show Leverage, and I hope to continue to see bigger and better roles for him.
This movie had it all. It had heart, it had tears, it had snarkiness and laughter. It showed the very best and the very worst aspects of American history. The heights we can rise and depths we can fall. There were stirring speeches, newsreels and footage from actual space flights. While they didn’t have the extensive space scenes that could equal Apollo 13, it had it’s own moments of nail-biting where even though history has shown that John Glenn survived, the pacing and tension of the movie still managed to keep you on the edge of your seat. The acting was superb. The sets, while not elaborate, were definitely indicative of the time period and reflected life, not only the challenges, but the successes, beautifully. It was well crafted, the pacing was perfect and I honestly couldn’t tell you what the music was. There were obvious songs that would have been popular during that era, but the overall score did not actually stand out which could have been disappointing because I love Hans Zimmer, except that the storyline was so engaging that I couldn’t pay attention to anything else.
Adults: Go and see this movie. As mentioned, it shows the best and worst that America had to offer during that time frame and it is a genuine pleasure to watch.
Children: Actually, this is totally suitable for you guys. You may not understand some of it and I’m glad of that, but it still shows what you can be if you put your mind to it. And that is worth watching.