Yesterday, I went to see Hidden Figures with one of my best friends. We had lunch, talked about writing (dear God, did I ramble and dominate the conversation – what the hell) and then we saw the movie. This review contains no spoilers beyond what you might have seen in commercials.
Hidden Figures is a movie based on the book of the same name about the true story of three African-American women who worked at NASA in the early 60s, at the height of the space race. This was before the advent of computers, so they had teams of women (both white and African-American) that acted as human computers – performing complex math. In fact, a lot of the plot hinges around an IBM being installed at NASA, with everyone aware that this would impact all the women employed.
Octavia Spencer plays Dorothy Vaughn, the woman heading up the team of ‘colored computers’ – who acts as supervisor to the woman, though without the actual job title (there’s a lot more to her story, but I don’t want to spoil that one bit). Taraji P. Hensen plays Katherine Goble (later Johnson), a brilliant mathematician who finds herself placed with the team calculating launch and landing trajectories for Project Mercury – NASA’s first attempts to get a man into space. Janelle Monae plays Mary Jackson, the member of the group who aspires to be an engineer. All three women are brilliant, and I honestly had no idea how good of an actress Monae is.
Rounding out the cast are Kevin Costner as the head of the Space Task Group, Jim Parsons as a member of the Space Task Group, Aldis Hodge as Mary’s husband, Mahershala Ali as Jim Johnson, Kirsten Dunst as the woman heading up the group of white computers, and Glen Powell (Finn from “Everybody Wants Some”) as John Glenn.
There’s a lot of award buzz about this movie – and deservedly so! All three main women turn in solid performances. The movie doesn’t shy away from addressing the truth of life with segregation (people in our audience audibly reacted every time a white person dismissed something obviously ridiculous and unfair by saying “it’s just the way it is”). It doesn’t pull punches when it comes to confronting the audience about their privilege, either.
It also manages to maintain a feeling of ‘will they, won’t there’ when it comes to the missions – which is no small feat when you already know how these missions went.
Can I take kids to this? I wouldn’t shy away from it. While there isn’t any foul language, there are moments of peril (within the space program, as well as news footage about real events in the civil right movement) that might bother smaller children. And certainly, this is a movie that will lead to a lot of discussion about racism – so be prepared to discuss segregation and the civil rights movement if you haven’t already. (As well as why the US wanted to get into space before the USSR) But I think that it’s important for kids to understand the past in order to understand the present. As well as to recognize that history regularly leaves out important people who contributed, simply because they were women. Or because they weren’t white.
So go see it. As soon as you can.