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The Dose: ‘Hidden Figures’ tells the story of black women at NASA

The Dose: ‘Hidden Figures’ tells the story of black women at NASA

The Dose: ‘Hidden Figures’ tells the story of black women at NASA
January 06
13:40 2017

In this wonderful family film, perfect for our current times, “Hidden Figures” tells the true story of three black women, whose mathematical work was tremendous for America’s successes during the Space Race. Because of their calculations, John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth in 1962.

Giving her best performance to date, Taraji P. Henson stars as Katherine Goble, whose years as a teacher and widowed mother belied her astounding mathematical gifts. Beginning in 1953, the same year IBM unveiled its first model, Goble worked as a “colored computer” for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, collecting analysis to meet growing demands for space shuttle research.

Supervising Goble and the other female computers was Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer). Despite being the first black woman to become a NACA head of personnel, Vaughan faced constant opposition from Vivian Mitchell (Kirsten Dunst), whose racism only typified the odds stacked against black women in Jim Crow-era workplaces.

Rounding out the three leads is Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe), a colleague of Goble and Vaughan who worked alongside flight engineers at NACA before it was renamed NASA.

What works best about “Hidden Figures” is its approach to social issues. Unlike most films about race, “Figures” doesn’t revel in the horrors of prejudice to make its point loud and clear. Instead, similar to “Remember the Titans” or “Glory Road,” it treats racism as an obstacle that anyone can overcome.

Much like the best historical dramas teachers use in classrooms, “Hidden Figures” transports viewers into the malaise of the Civil Rights Movement and blends those stakes with Cold War disillusionment. Without being preachy, it comments on the racial and sexist tensions of reputable professions with how three women defied expectations through unsung heroism.

In doing so, the film never becomes a Spike Lee-style “white guilt experience,” but nails the importance of different cultures uniting to strengthen their nation. Not only does this create a breath of fresh air from the harshness of “13th” and “Selma,” it’s an important storytelling component that elevates “Hidden Figures” beyond the trappings of schmaltzy, predictable popcorn filmmaking.

Director Theodore Melfi (“St. Vincent”) attacks this film with the craftsmanship and detail that a Hollywood movie demands; packing this tale of STEM research with great comedic moments and riveting drama from on and off the ground. In the midst of the lessons to be learned, Melfi’s cast does a fantastic job of bringing these figures to the big screen.

Since one’s an Oscar nominee and the other’s actually won, Taraji P. Henson and Octavia Spencer give the kind of incredible performances most critics expect from them. Although Henson gets the most time to shine and handles majority of the heft, it was singer-songwriter Janelle Monáe who really surprised me.

Prior to seeing this, a friend of mine alluded to how Monáe moved to New York to study drama before relocating again for a music career. But unlike many musicians-turned-actors who simply luck out for good roles, Monáe projects perfect doses of humor and personality within her character, getting some of the biggest laughs in the film. Between this and “Moonlight,” I can’t wait to see the next great project Monáe chooses.

Another “Moonlight” leftover is Mahershala Ali, who makes the most out of his limited screen time as Katherine’s charming husband-to-be. Finishing out the supporting cast is Kevin Costner as the Space Task Group director juggling office politics and his morality, Kirsten Dunst imposing those politics and Jim Parsons proving “The Big Bang Theory” won’t hinder his talent.

Simply put, “Hidden Figures” is a great family film for the holiday season. Inspiring, educational and more entertaining than it should be, this is a must-see for young people and fans of social or celestial history. For the type of movie this is, Theodore Melfi used every convention in the book to its best potential and delivered the most heartwarming film possible about its three brilliant subjects.

Released in theaters nationwide as of today, “Hidden Figures” comes highly recommended.

Featured Image: Janelle Monáe, Taraji P. Henson and Octavia Spencer in “Hidden Figures.” | 20th Century Fox

About Author

Preston Mitchell

Preston Mitchell

Preston served as the Opinion Editor of the North Texas Daily from July 2016 to July 2017, and is a UNT graduate of integrative studies.

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