Hidden Figures is a film based on the untold true story of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, three women of African-American origin who played a significant role at NASA during the space race in 1962.
Categorised as an American biographical drama, Hidden Figures is directed by Theodore Melfi and stars Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe in the lead roles, with notable actors Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst, Jim Parsons and Mahershala Ali also starring.
The film narrates the story of Katherine (Henson), Dorothy (Spencer) and Mary (Monáe), three brilliant and gifted ‘coloured’ women who worked at NASA at a time when segregation was prevalent and equal rights between races were virtually non-existent. The three women worked at the segregated West Area Computers division of NASA at the Langley Research Centre in Hampton, Virginia and were each talented in their own respective fields , with Katherine being gifted with ‘a beautiful mind’, able to calculate maths at a level of accuracy that even a computer couldn’t match; Dorothy, with her mechanical skills; and Mary, who possesses incredible engineering talent. Together, these incredible women behind the large NASA operation helped the astronaut, John Glenn, become the first American to make a complete orbit of the Earth.
The film derives its name from the lack of recognition these women received from NASA for their contribution to the highly celebrated feat, essentially keeping them as ‘hidden figures’ working silently and tirelessly behind the bureaucracy and discrimination. It is hard to imagine what this would have felt like to the women, who sacrificed precious time with their families, in order to help their country send a man into space.
The vivid portrayal of the disparity between races and the harsh truths about being part of a minority in 1960s America is difficult to swallow especially due to the fact that despite progress, many in the world still suffer from prejudice and racism today. However, despite the poignant look at the struggles of the minority, the film illustrates the strength, courage and determination the leading women possess to challenge the status quo and bring about change within NASA.
The way in which the story progresses in Hidden Figures is exceptionally done and illustrates the paranoia that resulted from the Cold War as well as the pressures faced by scientists at NASA to send a man to the moon, based on the entire country’s desperation to beat the Russians.
The calibre of actors and their excellent portrayal of each character is something to marvel at. Character development in this film shows the incredible growth and change that occurs in each character as the plot develops. Each character and their respective personalities are so believable that it almost feels as if the film was a documentary following the lives of the real people who are the subject of the film. One thing to note is that despite his best efforts to break away and portray different personas, Jim Parsons continues to be none other than Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory. From his mannerisms to wearing his pants up high, it was difficult not to see Parson’s character as anyone else.
The film references several key moments in history, which was eye-opening and showed off an America that many of us, today, have never seen or heard of. It was rather interesting to catch real life footage from the Civil Rights Movement as well as John F. Kennedy’s speech about traveling into space. The way these were seamlessly included into the film was brilliant and felt very realistic.
While Hidden Figures depicts the discrimination that ‘coloured’ people faced, it is worth mentioning that the film also illustrated the tolerance that many Americans had for those who were different. John Glenn was a perfect example of a man who didn’t care about a person’s colour and saw each person as a human being. Similarly, Costner’s character showed no prejudice to Katherine Johnson and gave her the opportunity to shine, making bold moves that went against protocol in order to make progress. In this way, the film showed that prejudice held progress back and that tolerance, acceptance and collaboration is what is required in order to reach a greatness and achieve a collective goal.
Hidden Figures is a marvelous film, which finally acknowledges the hard work and dedication of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn and Mary Jackson as well as their contribution to one of America’s most significant achievements. An exceptional film, Hidden Figures defines what it means to overcome hardship and illustrates a moment in history which changed America forever.