Hidden Figures, directed by Theodore Melfi and written by Melfi and Allison Schroeder, tells the story of three African-American women (friends) who worked as mathematicians for NASA’s space program in the 1960’s and had more than a little to do with the success of that program.
Taraji P. Henson plays Katherine Goble, a mathematical genius who was instrumental in calculating the numbers for the launch and re-entry of the NASA spacecraft. Octavia Spencer plays Dorothy Vaughan, who learned how to use NASA’a new IBM computers faster than anyone else and supervised a group of programmers (mostly African-American women who, along with Goble and Vaughan, had been working at NASA as human “computers”) whom she refused to work without. Janelle Monáe plays Mary Jackson, who fought against segregation and a variety of challenges to become NASA’a first black female aerospace engineer.
The stories of how these three women won the respect of NASA’s mostly white male power structure (especially Al Harrison, played by Kevin Costner) are told in a mostly by-the-numbers way, though the overall writing is very good. The acting by the three women mentioned above is outstanding, and even Costner was quite good (I’m not generally a fan). Kirsten Dunst is also fine as Vivian Mitchell, Vaughan’s supervisor. And I should also mention the presence of the very busy and very talented Mahershala Ali as Jim Johnson, Goble’s boyfriend and future husband.
Hidden Figures is a very well-made entertaining film, but it would nevertheless have received only *** from me if it wasn’t for the importance of the story it tells. For me, the heart of that story is the fact that, in 1960’s U.S., these three African-American women were not among the smartest women in the U.S. or among the smartest African-Americans in the U.S., but among the handful of smartest people in the U.S. Even so, because of the handicap of their race and gender, they would not have risen far without the incredible courage and tenacity they displayed. This story is critical for people to know. Since it’s well-told here, Hidden Figures gets ***+. My mug is up and I recommend it to all readers.