REVIEW – HIDDEN FIGURES – Waiting to Exhale meets The Right Stuff.
We’ve all got used tot he images of NASA over the years. Buzz cut aw shucks heroes like Sam Shepherd, Tom Hanks and Dennis Quaid – blasting off into space and the only maths you hear is 5-4-3-2-1. And the only black faces you see are… well you don’t see any.
Octavia Spencer plays Dorothy Vaughan, the leader of a section of computers – this was when computers were actually people who did the math. Janelle Monáe is Mary Jackson, the sassy engineer. Taraji P Henson plays Katherine Johnson, promoted to a role in the Space Task Group. She is essential for sending John Glenn into orbit as part of the Mercury program. They have to deal with the hard sums, but also the institutional racism and the snidey snips of Kirsten Dunst, among others.
Taken from Margot Lee Shetterly’s book Hidden Figures is a great watch for Black History Month. A reminder of the contribution Afro-Americans have made and how that contribution has been systematically erased. The only problem with the movie is that to make the struggle against racism familiar, the actual history is twisted. Desegregation took place at NASA three years before the film even begins in 1961. And the various promotions and achievements also don’t tally with the chronology. This allows Kevin Costner to be a white knight and Dunst to have a learning curve. But there is uplift and not only from the launchpads. A timely reminder of how much we can do when we work together.