Hidden Figures is about the people who stay hidden. Those underdogs who boldly take on the world and never come out on the front page. These people need to be acknowledged. They need to be celebrated. And that’s what Margot Lee Shetterly does with her book. The flick is based on that very book about the underappreciated who were literally the driving force behind putting an American man in space.
How many times have we toiled hard for something and let all the glory go to the man sitting on the throne? How many times have we given our blood, our sweat and soul for a job only to find someone else snatch our accolades away when time comes? Haven’t we dreamed for the rostrum too? Don’t our eyes seek glory too? Don’t we deserve it? Where’s our spotlight, the people who work 24×7 to make things happen?
Hidden Figures is the story about those who went unnoticed, who gave everything they had and yet somehow got sidelined in the race to dominion. That race is none other than the infamous space race.
Plot of Hidden Figures (Spoilers Ahead)
Three brilliant mathematicians who worked at NASA namely Katherine Goble, Mary Jackson and Dorothy Vaughan who are played superbly by Taraji P. Henson, Janelle Monae and Octavia Spencer are rooting for their chance to show the world they have potential. They have one major setback though, a hurdle that was so ugly during those times that it is hard to imagine an America that literally slayed a million dreams because of it – Racism. Unfortunately it is still broiling with its fumes.
These African American women are having a hard time being noticed until one day a bright opportunity shows up for Katherine G Johnson who is assigned to The Space Task Group owing to her impeccable skills with Analytic Geometry. The problem there is that she is the only colored woman in the team, and everybody hates her. To make matters worse there is no colored people toilet in the building where she works.
Can you imagine the daily torment of running all the way to the toilet that’s located half a mile far in another building, constantly working nevertheless, and then running back to the headquarters, of course, half a mile again, just so there is no setback in work. At times it would be raining outside and she would be soaked trying to make it to the toilet and back.
Just ’cause it’s the way, doesn’t make it right,
If that weren’t enough, there is prejudice even in coffee machines. Then in her work culture. People constantly being dismissive of her thoughts, not giving her the credit for her efforts. It is really sad for her to be working in a place that doesn’t appreciate her, and yet she gives more than 100% being glad for the opportunity to be a part of something huge.
Kevin Costner’s Al Harrison
Al Harrison the head of the Space Task Force played brilliantly by Kevin Costner is the guy calling the shots. Kevin creates a character that’s very much believable and relates to those highly involved researchers who really want the job done. He is grave and intelligent, and sometimes arrogant just like a real leader.
He identifies Katherine’s talent when she solves complex equations and is impressed with her genius. However, on constantly not finding her on her desk, he asks her where she goes. Katherine snaps venting out her anger telling him everything about the segregation at work, about her toilet, the coffee etc. As a result, Al goes ahead and personally breaks the “White Ladies” toilet sign breaking the shackles of differentiation then and there.
Here at NASA we all pee the same color.
Dorothy Vaughn and Mary Jackson Story
Running parallel to the story is that of Dorothy who wishes to be a supervisor, but is constantly put down by Vivian Mitchell (Kirsten Dunst). Mary on the other hand proves her talent and wishes to pursue her engineering degree.
Every time we get a chance to get ahead they move the finish line. Every time.
Dorothy makes herself indispensable by learning FORTRAN and teaching her coworkers the same as an IBM machine jumps in to make the ladies history. Vivian is forced to give her a chance and she finally gets to be the supervisor.
While Mary convinces a judge to let her attend an all-whites college to pursue her engineering degree. She becomes the first colored woman to do that which is an achievement per se.
Katherine proves her mettle with her geometric calculations in a room full of big names winning John Glenn‘s trust. The latter becomes the first American to orbit the Earth and return safely back owing to her spot on calculations.
When epilogue ensues we get to know that Katherine was also one of the major heads responsible for calculating trajectories of Apollo 11 and Apollo 13. She received the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her service, also one of the Research Facilities at Langley was named commemorating her.
We get to the peak together, or we don’t get there at all.
Dorothy headed the programming section of Analyis and Computation Division in Langley. While Mary earned the highest senior engineering title, later demoting herself to become a manager of Federal Women’s Program and Affirmative Action Program. In short, each one of them ended huge!
You can order Hidden Figures movie from here:
Minor Obvious Issues
One of the problems with the movie is its contrived feel. You realize Al Harrison trying to break the toilet board is merely put for theatrics, and it wouldn’t have possibly happened. Characters that try to push the colored, forcing upon them feels of segregation weren’t actually immediate characters like Paul Stafford (Jim Parsons) or Vivian. These were lodged in the American society back then, and even though things they did weren’t obvious but they were still there. These characters weren’t concrete and individuals like them have been cut out from thin air to prove a point.
Putting a man up in space wasn’t just one person’s diligence, it was a team effort. The whole unit, the team was responsible for doing the unthinkable. Now if you are acknowledging just few, doesn’t it make the rest of the team, I don’t know, hidden figures?
The movie traverses from the original happenings on a lot of occasions but as Margot admits, it was fine, since not everyone could have been possibly scooched in a movie, nobody is complaining in that front.
The Final Verdict
Margot Lee Shetterly’s story writes an after-glory of sorts that celebrate the real brains behind US’s intense affair with space. The movie takes a lot of liberty with the story fitting it in with theatrics, and showing us the ugly side of segregation. However, it celebrates the unnoticed people bringing them into the limelight which is in itself celebratory.
The screenplay of the flick stings you with its ballsy statements. It’s powerfully written by Melfi and Allison Schroeder.
Yes, they let women do some things at NASA, Mr. Johnson. And it’s not because we wear skirts. It’s because we wear glasses.
Theodore Melfi‘s direction is good, and he places apt focus on showing both sides of the wall. He packs in enough fun to keep things enjoyable, at the same time he doesn’t move away from the color issue. He portrays what ugly things people have been doing for so long, and shows us the pointlessness of it all against bigger things like trying to gauge the unknown.
It’s a movie that one should not miss for the world.
Check out the trailer of Hidden Figures here: