Possible Spoilers Ahead!
It’s the early 1960s and the United States is losing the space race against the Soviet Union. The Russians have already launched several satellites and are on the verge of sending the first human into space.
Mathematicians Katherine Coleman (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) are all black women working in the segregated West Area Computers division at the NASA Research Center in Langley. One day, Katherine is promoted to the Space Task Group led by director Al Harrison (Kevin Costner). Their mission is simple: get an American into orbit around the Earth.
Katherine has been a math prodigy since she was a child, but even she struggles to keep up with the demands of her new job. Not because she can’t handle it, but because of the racist treatment that she, Dorothy and Mary must deal with on a daily basis. But soon it becomes clear to everyone involved: They must either learn to work together and treat each other as equals, or they will never get an American into space.
“Hidden Figures” is based on the book of the same name by Margot Lee Shetterly, and the film was co-written and directed by Theodore Melfi. The movie is amazing, and its shocking this story has taken this long to make it to the big screen. “Hidden Figures” is one of those rare true story-based films that succeeds in a every aspect. The movie is inspirational, heart-breaking, touching, and even funny.
The film’s three leads – Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer, Oscar-nominee Taraji P. Henson and award-winning musician/actor Janelle Monáe do some of their best work here. Katherine Johnson’s job is trying to keep John Glenn (played by Glen Powell) from exploding during his mission. Dorothy Vaughan fights for the right to be a supervisor, and Mary Jackson wants to be the first Black engineer at NASA.
Octavia Spencer, Taraji P. Henson and Janelle Monáe all get solid character arcs, and their performances elevate the film, making the story even more impactful and satisfying. By the way, all three women could have been nominated for lead actress, because all three get equal screen time.
The supporting characters are also fully developed individuals who have their own character arcs. Jim Parsons and Kirsten Dunst showed range here that I didn’t know they had. Parsons as the NASA Space Task Group’s head engineer Paul Stafford and Dunst as Dorothy’s superior Vivian. Both of these characters are authority figures who undergo personal journeys of their own, over the course of the film.
Meanwhile, Kevin Costner once again proves he’s an acting force as the NASA Space Task Group’s director, Al Harrison. He’s the first person at NASA who treats Katherine Coleman (Taraji P. Henson) with some level of respect. He doesn’t care about her race, all he really cares about is can she do the job, and she can.
“Hidden Figures” does take some liberties with the true story of these ladies, as any movie would. I’m won’t list any of them here, because none of these liberties takes away from the fact that “Hidden Figures” is one heck of a movie, and one of those movies everyone should check out.
And who knows? Maybe this movie and the story of three women will inspire a new generation to study math and computer science
“Hidden Figures” final score: A