Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monáe shine in this heartwarming forgotten true story
What better time to talk about diversity in America than in a time after the U.S election. After talks of division and race, Hidden Figures brings a feel good story that focuses on inclusion and teamwork. For all that is worth, Theodore Melfi’s new movie isn’t perfect, but it’s damn hard to hate.
Uncovering the untold story of Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe), 3 black women working in NASA in the 1960s, we follow the lives of each woman trying to prosper in a time where differences were judged. All three women are smart, however, working against them are their skin color and gender.
Johnson’s incredible ability to solve math problems, Vaughn’s fantastic leadership skills and Jackson’s dream to become the first female engineer are all important parts to how NASA has won the space race. The only problem is that they are not seen as part of the team. Instead, they are viewed as inferiors, and the only way that NASA will send its first man in space is by embracing the diversity within.
Very much a movie about teamwork, Hidden Figures preaches a message of inclusion, love, and togetherness. Taraji P. Henson does an excellent job delivering what it feels like to have the world against you. Her character’s soft, obedient nature is a powerful depiction of just how black people were to respond. Contrasting her is Janelle Monae’s character, who is the sassy back-talking aspiring engineer. Her performance in this and in Moonlight make her an actress on the watch list in the coming years.
All three leading actresses help elevate the feel good story even when it does feel like a glossy history class movie. Its production value is a bit lacking, and some of the shots are blurry and sloppy but what helps the film is the way it grabs you emotionally with well-written characters worth rooting for. The way director Theodore Melfi (St. Vincent) weaves in all the big or little barriers black people had to overcome, and it is genius. There is a running joke about how Henson’s character needs to walk 30 minutes to the bathroom and back because there is no colored bathroom in her building. Small things like that make Hidden Figures that more compelling.
Jim Parson plays yet another Sheldon type character. Although, Hidden Figures dodges the feeling of being TV at multiple times, Parson’s character kept the movie from fully being cinematic. The casting choice is poor and too on the nose to take seriously. There is no reason to believe that Parson was the only one able to play that character. He takes you out of the movie with every scene he is in from his facial expressions to his dialogue.
The scenes that Parson doesn’t inhabit totally work. Mahershala Ali, Kristen Dunst, and Kevin Costner all do an excellent job. The script gives them space to improve and develop as characters.
Whether it will be sexism, racism or just plain discrimination, Hidden Figures is ultimately a great feel-good story that you cannot possibly hate. You may want more from it, but what we got is a compelling untold story about incredibly smart women who changed history and finally their story can be heard.