The story behind the three women of NASA’s hidden history is heartwarming
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With a big cast including Taraji P. Henson, the beloved Octavia Spencer, Kevin Costner and even Jim Parsons, and an even bigger story, “Hidden Figures” promised to be an uplifting movie experience that would give people some perspective on three of the mathematicians who helped orchestrate John Glenn’s orbit around the moon in the 1960s. These mathematicians were women in a time where women were not often seen in these roles. They were black in a time where segregation was deeply entrenched and they pressed on despite challenges to ultimately become critical to the Space Race and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
The film opens with background on one of the women, Katherine Goble, and recounts her childhood as a mathematical genius who flew through school, graduating college at age 18—a sequence filmed in smooth black and white. As the film switches to its present time, the palette changes to vibrant colors, and we are immediately introduced to the three women we will follow throughout the film—a now adult Goble, Mary Jackson and Dorothy Vaughan (played by Henson, Monae and Spencer respectively) as they carpool together to their place of employment: NASA.
The movie is made especially memorable for the way the filmmakers are able to skillfully interweave the racial tension typical in the south at the time into the film. In the second scene, the three black women must walk on eggshells around a white police officer when their car breaks down on the side of the road. The main characters work in a building far removed from where their white counterparts work at NASA, and their work conditions are clearly inferior to those of the white women, let alone the white male employees, although this is never explicitly stated on screen. The film successfully and subtly shows the discrepancies in how these women work through staging rather than explicit lines, a testament to the skill of director and co-screenwriter Theodore Melfi. Furthermore, while the film does highlight its three principal leads, it also shows the influence and work of the other computers they worked with and the contributions they made to the space program. “Computer”is the title they referred to by at the time.
Once Goble is moved to begin work as a computer with the Space Task Group, she is thrust out of her comfort zone and into a room full of white, male engineers where she clearly does not fit in. Determined to help her country and encouraged by her friends Johnson and Vaughan and the steadfast support of her boss, Al Harrison (Costner), Goble begins to claim and defend her position within the team. Meanwhile, Johnson and Vaughan carve their own equally important places in history.
While somewhat formulaic and safe in its storytelling, “Hidden Figures” is a heartwarming and inspiring tale to not only minorities in their fields but to all people looking to carve a path that may seem unlikely. Armed with strong directing from Melfi, solid performances from the three leads and a vibrant aesthetic, and additionally assisted by a soulful soundtrack from Pharrell Williams and Hans Zimmer, the film has immediately become a classic that should be shown to young women everywhere. By the end I guarantee you will be rooting for the three incredible women that tackled race, gender and the Russians in one fell swoop. I highly recommend this movie for anyone at any age looking for classic entertainment that is sure to leave them inspired and happy.