FILM REVIEW: Hidden Figures

WORTH A LOOK?: ****

OUT IN THE UK: 17/2

When NASA chief Kevin Costner takes a baseball bat to a sign saying ‘Colored washroom’ at its US headquarters it’s a giddy, shooting-to-the-stars moment for the audience.

  • Read on for reasons including why this film is so timely right now

Films about gifted mathematicians don’t sound like a guarantee of entertainment but here they are played by Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe, they’re black women, it’s the early 1960s and there’s is quite the story.

What is perhaps remarkable is that it has taken quite so long for this ‘based on true events’ tale of the real-life African-American NASA geniuses Katherine G. Johnson (Henson criminally overlooked for an Oscar in a tough 2017 field), Dorothy Vaughan (best supporting actress Oscar nod for Spencer) and Mary Jackson (a vivacious turn by Prince protégé and pop star Monae) to reach our screens.

Henson has the best storyline as the genius mathematician initially forced to make coffee from a kettle marked ‘Colored’ and spend 40 minutes per visit to the ‘Colored washroom’ because it was so far from her desk.

Elsewhere, Spencer leads her segregated team of mathematicians, oddly called ‘computers’, to master the first actual computer in the building and Monae challenges the law to study for an engineering job in an all-white school.

It’s a film which couldn’t be more perfectly timed given the current troubled change of presidency in the US, last year’s Oscars So White furore and the dearth of great leading roles for women, let alone black women.

We’re not great fans of space race films but this has so much going for it: not least Costner’s well observed: ‘We all get there together or we don’t get there at all’; and Henson’s challenge to casual sexism: ‘They let women do some things at NASA. It’s not because we wear skirts. It’s because we wear glasses.’

Elsewhere there are fine supporting turns from Jim Parsons and Kirsten Dunst in unsympathetic roles.

Looking for a film that wants to make you punch the moon with joy as injustice is outwitted and overcome? Hidden Figures deserves all the exposure it can get.

  • Picture via Facebook courtesy Hidden Figures – the movie.
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