Guest Blogger Review: Hidden Figures

Posted 17 February 2017 about Hidden Figures.

Hidden Figures that should be seen

hidden picturesHidden Figures is the story, or rather three connected stories, of the African- American women who worked for NASA at the start of the space race in 1961. Each struggles to be recognised for their talents and accepted as equals, both to the white employees and to the male workers, while also trying to hold together homes and families of their own outside of work.

Films exposing the race struggle in America are quite common these days, with Moonlight and Fences both joining Hidden Figures amongst this year’s Oscar nominations, and classics like The Help and Selma picking up statues in recent years.

Yet what marks Hidden Figures out from the crowd is that it doesn’t feel like a race struggle, at least not the angst-ridden radical kind we see so often on the big screen. Certainly, the three main characters want to be accepted as equals, but this is not because they are black and demanding their newly enshrined rights, but because they know that they are every bit as good, if not better, than their white, male co-workers.

Taraji P. Henson leads as Katherine Johnson, a gifted mathematical mind who helps NASA solve the unsolvable. She is ably supported by Janelle Monáe as spikey aspiring engineer, Mary Johnson, and Oscar winner and 2017 nominee, Octavia Spencer, as unsung ‘supervisor’ and IBM programming pioneer, Dorothy Vaughan.

All three manage to conduct themselves with quiet dignity in the face of outrageous prejudice, including a half mile walk to the ‘coloured restroom’ and even a segregated coffee pot, and it’s hardly a plot spoiler to say that all three succeed in changing hearts and minds through their understated actions.

With such outstanding lead performances, it would be easy to overlook a fine supporting cast, but they deserve their share of the praise. Kevin Costner is calm and controlled in one of his best roles for a while as boss, Al Harrison, while Kirsten Dunst makes the best of a thankless role as the cold, institutionally racist, Vivian Mitchell.

The only wrong note is the casting of Jim Parsons, best known for his long time portrayal of Sheldon Cooper in the US comedy The Big Bang Theory. As Jennifer Aniston repeatedly proves, once you are associated with such a high profile character, it’s hard to shake it off, and I spent a lot of the film waiting in vain for Parson’s Paul Stafford to say something funny.

With so much domestic detail behind the main story at NASA, Hidden Figures feels a little bit like a TV mini-series in places, and could probably lose around fifteen minutes without losing its impact. As a sci-fi fan, I’d also like to have seen a bit more of the space stuff, but that’s probably just me.

Hidden Figures will ultimately leave you smiling and uplifted, and above all inspired that whether you are man or woman, black or white, if you’re good at what you do and work hard, you will always get recognised in the end. Even if you have to wait an unfair amount of time for that to happen.

Guest Blogger: Simon Beasor

North-West based writer, copywriter & film buff, with a MA in Screenwriting from LJMU. Read more posts by Guest Blogger: Simon Beasor

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