Time for another installment of “In Case”. This time I’m reviewing a powerful female-centric movie. This film raises the bar of storytelling by having a woman protagonist of heroic dignity. And on top of everything else…
It’s a true story.
You thought I was gonna talk about Wonder Woman didn’t ya? I did enjoy the DC hit and I might review it later but this time I’m reviewing an even better movie: Hidden Figures from Fox 2000 Pictures. As always watch out from some spoilers below:
It’s 1961 Virginia and the space race is on. In the wake of the Russians launching of Sputnik I, heavy pressure is put on NASA for results. That’s where our heroines come in.
Three story lines center around real life NASA employees Katherine G. Johnson (portrayed by Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (portrayed by Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (portrayed by Janelle Monáe). These African-American women overcome double prejudice against their race and sex to become principal contributors to the American space program as a mathematician, a computer programming supervisor and an engineer respectively.
Between the space race and the Civil Rights movement, there is a lot going on in this movie. Writer/director Theodore Melfi (St. Vincent) manages the potential chaos and tells three quality stories without being high-handed or preachy. The main story of how Katherine G. Johnson earns the respect of her fellow math wizards at NASA is tied closely to her relationship with supervisor Al Harrison (portrayed by Kevin Costner). While under tremendous pressure to get an American in space, his eyes are opened to the racial and sex discrimination Katherine endures so she can contribute her savant-level math skills to the team. This movie is another example of Kevin Costner providing a stellar performance because he didn’t write or direct.
Dorothy Vaughan is a visionary with a matter-of-fact attitude. She sees the handwriting on the wall when a room-sized IBM computer arrives at NASA. This new arrival would normally mean the end of the line for herself and her staff of black female number-crunchers but Dorothy has other ideas. She breaks the law by going to the “white-only section of her local library and gets her hands on a computer programming manual. She then teaches herself how to get the computer to run when nobody else can. By teaching her staff the FORTRAN programming language, she ensures employment and dignity for all.
Mary Jackson has the mind of an engineer but is initially content with just complaining about the fact that black women are not considered for such jobs. Later in the story however, encouragement from her supervisor and a verbal butt whooping from her friend Dorothy convince Mary to take the necessary classes to qualify for the job. One problem though: The classes are taught at an all-white high school. She petitions the court for permission to take the classes. I won’t spoil the scene but I will say that Mary’s argument is skillful, inspiring and effective.
In short, Hidden Figures tells a good story and leaves the audience with a feeling of triumph. It serves as a reminder that when we set aside hate and embrace mutual respect, we can accomplish great things. We need that right now.
Did you see this movie? Did you enjoy it? Did the review stink? Comment and let me know!