REVIEW – HIDDEN FIGURES

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.

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MOONLIGHT – REVIEW

REVIEW – Boyhood meets Brokeback Mountain meets Boys n’ the Hood is a terrible description of Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight.

A portrait of young gay black man coming of age in Miami is a wonderful and serious movie that needs to be seen. Divided into three chapters, the film begins with Chiron “Little” (Alex R. Hibbert), a boy whose life is dominated by his addict mother (Naomie Harris) and bullying school mates. He finds an unlikely ally in Juan (Mahershala Ali), a local drug dealer who takes pity on the kid and offers guidance as well as swimming lessons. Along with his partner Teresa (Janelle Monáe), Little finally has a safe space.

The film is built on ellipses and we are never explicitly given any motivation for Juan’s kindness. Crucial events also occur between the lines as we skip ahead to the teenaged Chiron (Ashton Sanders). But his problems continue with his harsh environment and the constant threat of violence. Finally, the grown Chiron has become a survivor, hard and as inflexible as scar tissue.

Based on Tarell Alvin McCrane’s stage play, Jenkins has created an intensely personal film about the cost of survival. Without detracting from the sun soaked delights of La La Land, it’s instructive to see how different life can be. And how certain freedoms we believe to be won, battles done and dusted, are still alive and being fought for daily.

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