Susan Granger’s review of “Hidden Figures” (20th Century Fox)
Searching through history often reveals untold true stories that are hidden gems: this is one of them.
During the early 1960s, several African-American women worked for NASA, providing the mathematical data needed to launch America’s first successful space mission.
But, every day – in a myriad of ways – their integrity and perseverance were challenged by the hostile racism and inherent sexism of that period.
Graduating from college summa cum laude at the age of 18, Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson) was, perhaps, the most brilliant mathematician of her time.
When the Space Task Group’s manager, Al Harrison (Kevin Costner), finally admitted Katherine into the elite rocket scientists’ inner sanctum, she calculated trajectories for John Glenn’s Earth orbit in 1962 and subsequent missions.
But Katherine suffered daily humiliations, including not being allowed to use bathroom facilities in the building in which she worked and being assigned an often-empty ‘colored coffee’ thermos.
“They’ve never had a colored in here before,” personnel supervisor (Kirsten Dunst) explains.
Even Katherine’s admiring husband-to-be (Mahershala Ali) could not comprehend her aptitude for analytical geometry.
Katherine’s colleagues Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (R&B star Janelle Monae) were similarly humiliated, condescendingly referred to as ‘colored computers’ and paid considerably lower wages.
Based on the book by Margot Lee Shetterly, the title aptly symbolizes the obscurity of black female statisticians during that segregated era – yet the screenplay by Allison Schroeder and director Theodore Melfi (“St. Vincent”) contains several moments of feel-good humor.
Like when Dorothy’s Chevy Bel-Air breaks down and a cop stops to question them. When they explain they work for NASA, he gives them a police escort to the research center at Langley, prompting Mary to quip, “We’re three Negro women chasing a white cop in 1961!”
As well as producing the film, Pharrell Williams also oversaw the musical elements and soundtrack.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Hidden Figures” is an uplifting 8, delivering an inspiring message of hope.