With everything that’s going on in the world, between the sexism, racism, discrimination, and new president with problematic ideals, films which tell us about the issues people of colour, especially women of colour, have faced throughout history and continue to face are incredibly important. Hidden Figures, based on the bestselling novel by Margot Lee Shetterly, is about three mathematicians who had vital roles at NASA in the early years of the space program. It’s a fantastic movie celebrating a group of people who faced adversity and demanded the respect they deserved.
Hidden Figures is a biopic about Katherine G. Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer), Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe), women of colour who worked at NASA but faced segregation, racism, and sexism while they helped further the space program behind the scenes. Katherine is a genius with equations vital to launch and landing; Dorothy and her team run the data and new computers; and Mary has a role in building the shuttle itself. All face adversity based on the colour of their skin and their gender. But, together, they fight to be treated as they deserve, and advance and thrive in their fields.
“Every time we get a chance to get ahead they move the finish line. Every time.”
There’s probably hundreds of films about white men throughout history accomplishing great things, but what about women of colour? Hidden Figures gives these incredible people the chance to have their story told, and to teach audiences about the trials and hard-won triumphs of the people of colour, especially women. The script delivers from start to finish. There’s no shortage of quotes about white privilege. Vivian Mitchell (Kirsten Dunst) is a manager at NASA and believes she isn’t racist, but clearly is. And she says and does some nasty things, like believing that segregation is a natural and good thing. Al Harrison (Kevin Costner) may be running NASA but he fails to notice that Katherine is being treated so poorly by her colleagues. He very slightly redeems himself when he stops ends bathroom segregation. Astronaut John Glenn (Glen Powell) is one of the few white characters who doesn’t care about skin colour, and wants Katherine to be the one entrusted with the launch, flight, and landing equations.
The film also focuses on how women of colour are often denied the lives and careers they want. They shouldn’t have to fight so hard to have careers that white men don’t have to really fight for. The story balances itself well in showing these women fighting to keep their jobs – because NASA considered them more expendable than white staff – and to use their knowledge to help make history with the space program. The film ends on a high note, and while that celebratory tone is wonderful at the same time it made me feel like many more films like this need to be made. Because while these women had a great victory in fighting for their voices to be heard, for respect, and their careers, racism is still a very real problem.
“Just ’cause it’s the way, doesn’t make it right, understand?”
Hidden Figures has a fantastic cast. Henson is truly stunning as the child-prodigy who dreams of writing equations for NASA. She does well in all scenes, but one standout scene for me was when she reaches her breaking point and yells about all the discrimination she’s been facing, about how ridiculous it is that she has to go 20 minutes away to even use a bathroom, and how her co-workers even have a separate coffee pot for her. Her display of emotions was so realistic and heartbreaking. Spencer, who was previously in The Help as the bold Minny, is a woman who does all the duties of managing the “colour” data department but isn’t given the title and salary of a manager. She stands up for the women she works with, and proves that they are invaluable. Her character and her portrayal of her is strong. Monáe is new to acting – she’s a singer first and foremost – but she does very well. Her character is fighting to go to school so she can then be promoted at work, and she makes the character dynamic and endearing. All of these characters are handled beautifully. It’s wonderful to see a female-lead movie with such a well-rounded, talented cast.
With the way the world is going right now, films about women of colour are so, so important. Hidden Figures is a captivating true story with a great cast that keeps you hooked from start to finish. I think everyone should watch this movie and appreciate not only the story it tells but also its message. It celebrates these women who faced so much hardship due to racism and sexism. I want more movies like this, more movies that celebrate people of colour (especially women). For the world’s sake, I think everyone needs more movies like Hidden Figures.
My Rating: 8.5/10