History has a funny way of hiding truths and a special way of revealing… the past. Institutional racism often can be the impetus to concealing important stories about interesting people and is the core reason America is just now discovering the incredible story of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson – the three intelligent and wonderful African-American women, who worked at NASA during a very racist and tumultuous time in American history and who overcame these obstacles to help get America up into space. “Hidden Figures” is the film that shines a light… where there was once darkness.
Most biopic pictures take some liberties to shape a story for general audiences, but this film doesn’t shy away from issues of race – and the intelligence and importance of these three ladies in particular – and the works of many of the African-American women in general who worked for NASA.
“Hidden Figures” has some stellar Oscar worthy performances that carry the film. Starting with Taraji P. Henson (Katherine Johnson) as the straw that stirs the drink, leading this cast through the social waters of the time. Henson’s performance is commanding, engaging, and robust, while not being over the top.
Her counterpart is Kevin Costner (Al Harrison) who is the leader of the NASA space program focused upon getting America into space. He walks a fine tightrope between a mean and demanding boss and the understanding and caring white male character who learns to tolerate racism.
Octavia Spencer (Dorothy Vaughan) was the heart of the movie, as her character meant to ground the film with motherly precision, helping the audience with loving the plight the story. As a character, Kirsten Dunst (Vivian Michael) works because she starts as the typical lovable racist who you desire to hate until she seemingly grows in the film beyond her biases. But the stand out of this movie was… Janelle Monae! Who knew that this incredible singer could steal an entire movie. Janelle (Mary Jackson) is so endearing, energetic, and funny and she captures every scene which she appears.
While “Hidden Figures” may be a soft, heartwarming version of the actual events and lives of three incredible women, it still is a story that is sorely needed for history’s sake and for the filmmaking process. This picture has the dexterity to allow for the ominous clouds of racism to hover throughout the whole picture. This film does not try to hide or solve racism by allowing the white characters to grow beyond their stereotypes or by allowing the black characters to forgive and forget the treatment they receive while just trying to overcome their obstacles, and that’s why “Hidden Figures” works.
“Hidden Figures” also keeps as the overall theme of the race for space in the rear view of story, so in the midst of struggle and growth for our characters for personal salvation, the desire to see America beat Russia into space still looms large throughout this movie. This overarching theme about space travel helps us to at times forget about the “space” between the races.
Interesting enough, films today have more too often become the history lesson that we no longer get in schools and in our homes and it is because of this reality that the film “Hidden Figures” becomes a greater work because it is admirable enough to inspire a new generation to seek out and to study the fascinating tale of three incredible African-American women.
Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson… you are Hidden no more!
Darryl King is a video director, film writer and avid Marvel/DC comic book/movie lover. In addition to his popular comic book movie reviews, you can check out his reviews of The Birth of a Nation and The Magnificent Seven right here on MMT.