Hidden Figures is a good film about a great story. It’s a picture about racial discrimination that isn’t looking to make any waves, but rather tell its tale in an audience pleasing style. Director Theodore Melfi and the top-notch cast manage to achieve their mission, while moviegoers looking for something deeper about similar subject matter have plenty of other quality material to select from.
Figures is set in the early 1960s and focuses on three African American women who were instrumental to the nation’s space race. Katherine (Taraji P. Henson) is a math whiz who does the work that computers would later accomplish. Dorothy (Octavia Spencer) is a capable supervisor whose chances at career advancement are hindered by her race. Same goes for Mary (Janelle Monae), a talented engineer who must fight to attend a whites only school to further her opportunities.
Each woman is presented with unique challenges based on their being in a foreign world in Langley. Even as Katherine is elevated to more important work in her field, she must run half a mile to a building with a colored only restroom as her new digs don’t have one. Dorothy’s supervisor (Kirsten Dunst) has a tough time envisioning her employee doing a similar job. Mary must be creative with the judicial system to achieve her goals.
The screenplay focuses most prominently on Katherine and her interactions with sympathetic Al Harrison (Kevin Costner), director of the Space Task Group. He enlists her help in the furious space race with the Russians as they try to get John Glenn to orbit the Earth.
Hidden Figures serves as a nifty history lesson to younger viewers and those who’ve forgotten their lessons when it comes to that race. And it’s the race of the three leads and their true stories that probably should’ve been told before now. The screenplay has apparently taken some liberties here and there with certain facts, but the contributions of Katherine, Dorothy, and Mary is not in question.
The subject’s personal lives aren’t explored in major detail, save for Katherine’s romance with a military officer (Mahershala Ali). Figures is more concerned with their work and the dynamic between Katherine and Harrison is the most interesting. It helps that both Henson and Costner do fine work here.
While the pic isn’t necessarily told in a new way as it builds toward triumphant moments for the principles, I’m glad I got to know about their previously unheralded contributions.
*** (out of four)