Hidden Figures that should be seen
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.