Movie Review: ‘Hidden Figures’ entertains and informs

This image released by Twentieth Century Fox shows Taraji P. Henson as Katherine Johnson, center, in a scene from "Hidden Figures." (Hopper Stone/Twentieth Century Fox via AP)

“Hidden Figures” tells the true story of three black women and their work at NASA in the early 1960s. While the movie itself is phenomenal, the real purpose of the movie is to bring attention to the wonderful women and their achievements.

Each women has a slightly different role at NASA. Mary Jackson (played by Janelle Monáe) is a computer, but her real talents lie in engineering. As a black woman, a job in NASA’s engineering department is unheard of. She soon finds her way to court to argue her case to help beat out Russia in the race to space.

Katherine Johnson (played by Taraji P. Henson) is a math genius in the computing department. She is placed in the Flight Research Division, where every other worker is a white man. When she finds mistakes in head honcho Paul Stafford’s (Jim Parsons) work, she is finally taken seriously, but remains a second-tier and temporary worker until the end of the film. Because all dramas must have some romance tossed in, the widow’s courtship with a new man is featured.

Dorothy Vaughan (played by Octavia Spencer) is one of the senior workers in the computer department. Even though she gives out assignments to the younger women and does all the other work for her supervisor, she still won’t be promoted. All three women have reached their glass ceilings and are fed-up with their mistreatment.

The film, set in West Virginia in 1961, is a necessary reminder of how life used to be less than 60 years ago. The segregation of the nation limited these women and their families from reaching their full potentials. Even at a time when all hands were on deck to beat the Russians, every person wasn’t allowed to give everything they had.

“Hidden Figures” highlights the microaggressions that torment black women in the 60s. For example, in Johnson’s new department, there aren’t any colored women’s restrooms. She must walk 20 minutes to the nearest bathroom on the west side of the NASA campus. As Jackson walks through the spaceship testing room before a demonstration, her high heel is caught on the grate of the floor. That close call would not have happened with a man, and she was embarrassed by it. When Vaughan decides to learn how to use the “International Business Machine” (the IBM computer), she goes to the public library to find a book on coding. Of course the colored section did not have books on coding, so she went to the regular section. There, a white woman said she should have “made do” with the books in the colored section.

The film, which is nominated for two Golden Globes Awards (Best Supporting Actress and Best Original Score), has a slew of other notable actors and actresses, including Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst and Mahershala Ali. But Monáe, Henson and Spencer dominate the film, as they should.

“Hidden Figures” is a must-see film that educates as much as it entertains. These brilliant black women had a crucial role at NASA that cannot be understated.

Rating: A


Claire Galvin is a senior staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at claire.galvin@uconn.edu.