I’ve made this a point in a lot of my reviews, but films are a lot more than films because of the effect they can have on society. They can become huge cultural milestones which inspire thousands of people, though most end up as something to half heartedly watch during a Netflix binge. That’s why it is important to represent people other than white males and why there is such a push to do so by many minority groups. The Oscars So White campaign happened for a reason guys. That’s why a film like Hidden Figures is very important, but is it actually any good.
Three black women, Katherine G. Johnson (Taraji P. Henson, Person of Interest), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer, The Help) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae, Friends with Benefits) all work in the computer division of NASA as they try to put their first man in space. However while all of them are incredibly talented, they are pushed down by the racist attitudes of the era.
So there’s a simple reason why Hidden Figures is important, it is a real life story that I don’t think many knew about but should know about. I certainly didn’t realise that black women were such a huge part of the space program until I saw this movie. Heck, for a while the movie had me confused because it turns out the people who did the maths were called computers and that term hasn’t only referred to the machines that changed our lives. There’s an assumption, one I admittedly shared, that because of segregation black people didn’t get near roles like this yet I was delighted to see the film prove me wrong by showing me the real stories of these black women who had such influential roles in NASA as well as depicting all the discrimination they also had to go through.
That/’s because racism is a running theme throughout the entire movie and I feel the way they did it was perfect. It’s too easy to have the sort of Redneck/KKK style racism where you just hear that terrible word over and over again, but it takes actual skill and nuance to depict the sort of discrimination you see in this film. This sort feels more real too. The sadness of the acceptance by some of the characters that this is the way it is, black people have to sit at the back of the bus ‘because that’s how it’s always been’. One of the best scenes in the movie is shortly after Katherine gets moved to a new division where she’s the only black woman and goes to make a cup of coffee and the entire room falls silent because they are aghast that she would touch their pot. That’s shocking enough, but then later on the segregation continues as Katherine is soon given her own tatty pot of coffee so the white people can have that feeling of knowing a black person hasn’t touched their stuff. It’s shocking but brutally effective.
But for most of Hidden Figures, it’s about maths. And not just simple addition but some of the most complicated maths of the time, which I do not understand at all. Thankfully, you don’t need to know any of it to make sense of the movie because it’s quite smart to keep the pace of these scenes quite quick and basically just put over how impressive it all is. The basic recipe is that Katherine writes all of these complicated formulas on the blackboard on the other scientists look at and say how brilliant it is. It’s clichéd but it does work.
But what really makes this film enjoyable is the tone the movie takes. Even though it will slow down and deal with the serious stuff, the movie is not afraid to crack jokes and make these characters we are with very enjoyable. Never mind all the space stuff or the commentary of segregation in the 1960s, I simply liked being in the company of the characters. Katherine was shy, but cares a lot and was a genius. That’s fine but I simply adored the other two main characters, Dorothy and Mary. They both have fire in their bellies and are just a great laugh to watch. That means when they do go on their crusades, whether it is to be a supervisor or an engineer, you back them to the hilt to succeed.
Of course Hidden Figures is not perfect. The movie is rather clichéd and follows a very familiar arc with underappreciated characters soon showing their worth with pure hard work. It’s not a bad arc, but it’s one we’ve seen before. Also while both Katherine and Dorothy’s personal stories are the focus of the film, Mary’s sort of gets forgotten for a lot of the film and it’s definitely the C-Plot. I feel like there was a lot more to it that would have been interesting but it may have been left on the cutting room floor to make the film a palatable length. Also Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory) is in it and he’s as irritating as you’d expect.
Hidden Figures is just a really enjoyable film to watch. It has a lot to say about discrimination in the work place keeping geniuses down due to either their gender or race and that is important and done very well. But the reason you’ll come back to this film is the fact the characters are so great to be around and that you’re very happy to simply watch them chat for a while, and they even do that for some scenes with not that much plot progression. There are a couple of problems, but they aren’t that major and it doesn;t distract from the great film this is.