I’ve been in quite the ornery mood lately. I haven’t seen a movie, it seems, since November. I really haven’t been motivated to do too much. I hadn’t really seen a ton of trailers for Hidden Figures, but given everything that’s happening in this country (post election 2016), this seemed a movie I had to see. The movie is based on a book about three African American women who were integral in getting John Glenn to orbit the Earth. This was the time when the US were in a tight race with Communist Russia to get into space. The 1960s setting seemed to be more familiar than not. Take away the segregated bathrooms and that movie could be taking place now. The cousin I went to see the movie with commented that this could be a glimpse into the future instead of a story of triumph from the past.
The movie follows the story of three African American women, all of whom, from an early age, excelled at either science or math. Any woman, let alone a minority, would not be welcome in these fields. The fact that these women were African American, before people decided everyone should have equal rights, doesn’t accurately display how hard their struggles must have been. There are microcosms of incidents where the superiority of the white co-workers is used to show how different the world was then. In truth, those situations are very much still alive and well. I noticed that the woman who the main character is based on is still alive and I wonder what she would think about how little it feels like things have changed.
I digress. The story starts with a young African American family getting money that had been collected in the community to send their child, a kid, not a young adult, to college. The girl, Katherine Johnson, turns out to be a complete math whiz. The African American women are placed in a part of the Langley campus that is far removed from where their work needs to be done. There are dozens of scenes where Katherine is running across the campus to use the bathroom. The culmination of that scene was the perfect slow burn, a mere snapshot of everyday life for those who are not born with pale skin.
The narrative is nothing new, yet the story seemed somehow fresh. Each of the three characters had distinct storylines, distinct hurdles they had to overcome to be successful. Janelle Monáe stole every scene she was in. Kevin Costner was surprisingly accessible, where I expected him to be another hurdle, instead he worked towards equality, stating something along the lines of ‘wanting whoever could do the work’ to be involved. That shattered much of the boys club that existed within NASA. The often unlikable Kirsten Dunst was true to form, being unlikable, on purpose, and being put in her place by Octavia Spencer’s firey Dorothy. All in all, the hype is well given and the story is absolutely one you will not regret seeing.
As for the Hina test, it would be hard for me to find something amiss in this movie. The three main characters were African American women. The white characters were evolving to accept that being different wasn’t a bad thing. The sole criticism I could give this movie is that other than African Americans, there were no other minorities represented. I find it hard to believe there were no Asians or Hispanics at all in Virginia in the 1960s. However, at this point, that would really be quibbling with what delivers a powerful message to those that believe white supremacy is the only way forward. If not for this unknown story, our space program would have been leaps and bounds behind Russia.