I made one of my relatively rare forays to the cinema last week to watch the new film “Hidden Figures”. I was little half hearted about the film as the thought of another “revisionist” story from history, mixed with the potential PC approach taken to film making is not a particularly attractive proposition to me these days.
However, I arrived at the cinema, bought my ticket and settled back, hopefully to enjoy the film. I had deliberately not read any reviews of the film so that I would come to it with unprejudiced eyes.
Hidden Figures tells the astounding true story of three black women who made it possible for America to win the space race of the 1960s. Katherine Johnson (Taraji P Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer), and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) were part of the pool of gifted mathematicians analysing vital calculations made by the Space Task Group.
Led by Nasa’s Al Harrison (Kevin Costner), neither the task group nor Harrison is concerned with prejudice rife in America of the 1960s. He and his Nasa team are focused on only one thing: putting a man into orbit.
In the days before automation, Harrison needs a “super computer” – a mathematician who can see beyond the numbers. This he finds in the form of Katherine Johnson, a black single mother working in Nasa’s “computer pool”.
After finding Johnson’s skills invaluable, he’s angered and puzzled why this obviously dedicated woman is absent from her desk for several periods every day. Then the penny drops: Johnson isn’t slacking in her duties, she’s having to run far across the Nasa compound to use segregated toilets.
The central character is Katherine Johnson wonderfully portrayed by Taraji P Henson with Janelle Monae as the fiercely assertive and determined Mary jackson, but for me the real star of the film is Octavia Spencer as Dorothy Vaughan. I can think of no better way to sum up her performance than to quote the Film Critic of the Daily Telegraph who wrote “Spencer plays Dorothy as the kind of woman who can forestall a racial slur with one deft word, at the same time showing a suspicious policeman that she can, in fact, repair her own car that has broken down on the roadside. The quietly determined leader of a group of talented women, Vaughan’s role is the film’s most subtle and most heartbreaking. As writer/director Ted Melfi says: “She never could become an official supervisor because of the politics of the time, but she played that role anyway.”
Honourable mentions should also be made of Kevin Costner and Jim Parsons, the latter as an unsympathetic and at times objectionable project manager (yes, it is Sheldon from Big Bang Theory).
Not a perfect film by any means, but one worth making the effort to see as it is a tremendous story that most people are unaware of. But most of all go and see the performance by Octavia Spencer who should at least have won the Oscar for best supporting actor.
Go and see it!