Three female African-American mathematicians helping NASA in 1960’s Virginia seems like a fairytale. Hidden Figures tells the true story of Katherine Johnson (Taraji P Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer), and Mary Jackson’s (Janelle Monae) important work helping NASA launch the first successful space mission.
The plot focuses primarily on Katherine and the computer work she does leading up to the John Glenn’s famous Friendship 7 mission. Meanwhile, Mary works to become a graduate engineer at an all-white school while Dorothy fights to become NASA’s first black supervisor. The women deal with every obstacle along the way from racism to sexism and everything in between.
Clocking in at 127 mins, the plot moves at a solid pace. The story is never idle long enough to be boring. It’s labeled as a comedy-drama, but it has some thrilling moments towards the end as the team gets closer to the launch. Compelling supporting characters are injected at the right times to keep things interesting. Kirsten Dunst, Mahershala Ali, and Kevin Costner do a great job keeping the story moving and adding some much needed energy to the film.
Taraji P Henson does her best as the film’s lead. Henson plays Katherine as a strong, intelligent woman trying to navigate her way through the workforce in the 60’s. 90% of her performance is believable; the 10% when she’s trying to be nerdy by pushing her glasses up to her nose or nervously running with piles of paper just doesn’t work. A lot of the “nerdy” act feels forced and unauthentic while the rest of her performance is fantastic.
Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae give impressive performances, but Monae is special. Her performance earlier this year in Moonlight was great and she gives another fantastic performance here. Monae isn’t just “good for a singer”, she’s legitimately good. Her music career may have robbed of some amazing acting performances. The next movie she’s in can’t come soon enough.
As great as the three leads are, Costner may be the only one to walk away with an Oscar nomination for his film. Costner’s performance is good and may be just enough to earn him a supporting nom for his performance.
The story doesn’t spend a lot of time dealing with racism or sexism. The focus of the film is the work that was done and how important these women were to NASA and the space program. However the film doesn’t shy away from how those ideas were part everyday practice in the workplace – even in a place like NASA.
Hidden Figures is a beautiful film that tells the amazing story about three powerful women and the hard work and sacrifice they gave to the United States. For people under the age of 60, the film does a good job setting up how important the Space Race was and what it meant to the country. The weight of what was at stake is evident in the film. That weight also shows what the three women did was equally as historic as it was important.