Period film: Hidden Figures (2016)

In the midst of a space race, NASA needed all of the brain power it could get. Included among the ranks were the “computers” — mathematicians assisting the engineers and flight planning teams with expert calculations.

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(Image via flickfilosopher.com)

Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer), Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae), and Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson) are three such “computers,” working in various capacities on the project that hopes to launch John Glenn (Glen Powell) into orbit before safely returning him to Earth.

As these women see their mathematics talents draw them into important roles at NASA, they fight to achieve their dreams while overcoming the barriers of their gender and race.

Hidden Figures was directed by Theodore Melfi, who also co-wrote the screenplay along with Allison Schroeder. Based on a true story, the film calls upon the research of Margot Lee Shetterly in her book of the same title.

Hidden Figures might be my favorite 2016 film. It’s certainly one of the most inspiring films I’ve ever watched! These three women accomplished great feats in the face of enormous obstacles, and along with many other women forgotten by history as it is taught, deserve to be remembered and appreciated.

The significance of the story on which the film is based does not, alone, make it a great film. The performances played a big part in my enjoyment. Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monae all do fantastic work bringing the past to life. It would be impossible for me to choose a favorite performance between the three. I wouldn’t have minded seeing this as a miniseries or trio of films, in fact, so we could spend more time with each of the characters and each of these very talented actresses.

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(Image via theconvocafe.com)

As a portrayal of the mid-century, Hidden Figures succeeds in many respects, not only in its story’s handling of the everyday discrimination of the time, but also in terms of visual authenticity. The production and costume design are very well-executed, leaving the viewer with no question as to where or when these events are taking place.

Some may dismiss the film as overly optimistic or hopeful, given the current political climate and the fact that racism and sexism remain prevalent in the United States and elsewhere in the world. I have to disagree with this. As much as I appreciate films that challenge, and that highlight the darker parts of history, it’s just as important to celebrate the successes — especially successes like those of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson, which have been excluded from the mainstream historical narrative for so long. Hero-worship biopics have been made based on the lives of people far less deserving. There is no doubt in my mind that young people seeing this movie will be inspired by its positive representation and uplifting role models.

On a personal level, I was most inspired by Octavia Spencer’s character of Dorothy Vaughan. Vaughan taught herself a complex programming language, but she didn’t stop there. She used her knowledge to empower others, teaching the language and how to use the equipment. One of the best ways to use your knowledge is to share it — something I was reminded of by watching Dorothy’s story, and which struck a chord with me, as a career knowledge-sharer (librarian).

Hidden Figures is a well-crafted film which sheds light on a history that has often been completely ignored. As important as it is purely entertaining, in my mind, this film should be required viewing!

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