Film Review: Hidden Figures

Three intelligent women are steadfast in their determination to do their part for the country and for NASA by helping to put a man in space – the problem is; nobody wants to give them a chance to prove themselves capable.

Employed as NASA computers, Katherine Goble is a mathematician, Dorothy Vaughn is a mathematician with a knack for supervision and mechanics, and Mary Jackson is a mathematician and aspiring engineer. However despite their qualifications and experience, all the other NASA employees see are coloured women who are probably in the room to collect the trash.

In spite of the judgement they’re faced with at every turn, when the opportunity arrives for these women to prove their worth, they’re not going to let the colour of their skin stop them from doing their job.

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It’s 1961, and with the Russians having successfully sent a satellite into space, and on their way to sending a man, there is mounting pressure from the NASA Space Task Group to catch up. Assigned as a computer to double check calculations, Katherine (Taraji P. Henson) is the first coloured person both on the team and in the building. On top of her constantly shifting work  load and being a widow with three kids, Katherine has to deal with the complications of secondary tasks at work like finding the nearest bathroom and the politics of drinking coffee from the communal pot.

Every time Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) blinks, someone has moved the finish line – not only are women not allowed to apply for the NASA Engineering programme, a new qualification requirement has been added. The only way Mary Jackson can get the qualification and compete? Attending a High School that doesn’t allow any black pupils. Outside she has white men and women telling her what she can and can’t do, and at home she gets the same speech from her husband who is less than supportive of her aspirations to be more than her label.

They may have varying challenges different goals and ranging abilities, but these three women support and champion one another and those around them; staying one step ahead of the curve and letting their talents do the talking.

One may never guess due to my love and devotion for film, television and literature, but I did in fact voluntarily study Mathematics at A level. I loved using formulas, making my way through long calculations and relished in the 6% of the time I managed to get the answer right. Skirting over my final grade, I will say that the math itself in Hidden Figures – though I only understood 0.1% of it – was handled tactfully. We weren’t overburdened with Sherlock-esque monologues of numerical explanations we couldn’t follow, and yet were presented with a number of instances where we could understand the magnitude of Katherine’s raw talent with numbers.

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It’s amazing how transported into a movie you can get when you empathise with characters and their struggles, and how you can just as quickly correlate it with the present day.

There was a part in the film where Astronaut John Glenn came over to talk to the black workers – who were naturally segregated from the white ones – and I found myself saying: Oh wow how nice of him! What a great guy! And then I thought to myself: You’re congratulating someone on being nice, a trait that is expected be everybody in today’s society. It honestly just made you realise how difficult it must have been to live a normal day to day life, astonished at the things they weren’t allowed to do that seem minuscule now, and angry that such a time existed not even that long ago.

One thing I thought was great about this film was how organic it felt. Katherine, Mary and Dorothy weren’t trying to start a fight or a revolution, or to even overreach past anything other than what they needed.

Race and gender inequality were the underlying themes of Hidden Figures, and so aside from a few necessary plot moving outbursts, it wasn’t a force fed theme – and there was no need for it to be. In that respect it allowed for there to be a focus on the story itself, how the women and the people they interacted with dealt with the obstacles they faced because at the end of the day Hidden Figures was more than a film about race – it was their life.

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