Release date:January 6, 2017
Studio:20th Century Fox
MPAA Rating: PG (for thematic elements and some language)
Screenwriters:Alison Schroeder, Theodore Melfi
Starring:Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe, Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst, Jim Parsons, Mahershala Ali, Aldis Hodge, Glen Powell
Opening in wide release this weekend is Hidden Figures. The film is a based-on-a-true-story exploration of the group of African-American women who made up NASA’s Colored Computers group during the early days of the space race against Russia. This was a time when the term computer was used to describe actual people who performed calculations. It’s an interesting piece of history that reminds us of how far we’ve come in so many varied ways since then culturally, and technologically.
Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe portray three women with incredible minds for mathematics who fought to overcome the cultural bias against their race, their gender and their accepted place in the world as they contributed to the complicated and often times revolutionary scientific advances that brought humankind into the space age. These were women who dreamt of big things for mankind and didn’t let anyone limited view of the world prevent them from achieving what many viewed as impossible goals. All three of these actresses deliver heart felt performances that show the incredible strength of character, will and determination that these pioneering women had. Because we are watching a film that is based on history it makes their performances all the more inspiring as we get to watch these women overcome so much adversity in their time at NASA. Spencer is already earning award nominations for her portrayal of Dorothy Vaughan, the woman who assumed the duty of supervising the colored computers group at NASA before the organization had ever actually hired a woman of color to do that job (she eventually became the first official NASA Supervisor of color). Henson portrays Katherine G. Johnson, the legendary mathematician who helped develop the formulas for calculating orbital insertion and re-entry for the space capsules and whose mathematics were so concise she was trusted to verify the math that the early IBM computer calculated for John Glenn’s historic first orbital flight. Monáe fills the shoes of Mary Jackson who went on to become an aerospace engineer and eventually attaining the highest level possible at NASA without becoming a supervisor (she shifted gears instead and became an administrator in the Equal Opportunity Specialist field).
Kevin Costner, Jim Parsons and Kirsten Dunst fill out the ensemble as the co-workers and supervisors of these women at NASA and have the unenviable duties of portraying the ugly side of casual racism and sexism that was so commonly found in society at the time. Costner in particular does a wonderful job of portraying a man whose eyes are eventually opened to the insulting nature of segregation through his interactions with the brilliant women.
Hidden Figures takes some liberties with the actual events to craft a story that works for a feature film while capturing the inspirational spirit and message of the accomplishments of these extraordinary women. Families with children of all colors and genders should see this movie together and leave dreaming of big things for the future of the human race.