In the spirit of the 2017 Oscar nominee announcements last week, I’ll be watching the Best Picture nominees over the next few weeks leading up the ceremony. Also, I got some personal complaints that my posts were too long, so from now on (hopefully), I’ll be posting one movie every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. I started off by watching Hidden Figures, the story of three African-American women who helped launch John Glenn into space.
Hidden Figures (2016)
Directed by Theodore Melfi
Starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe
Nominated for three Oscars: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress (Spencer), Best Adapted Screenplay
Based on a true story and adapted from the 2016 book by Margot Lee Shetterley, Hidden Figures tells the story of Katherine Johnson (Henson), Dorothy Vaughn (Spencer) and Mary Jackson, three African-American women who worked at NASA during the ’60’s. All three women were brilliant—Johnson is a math whiz, Jackson is a aspiring engineer and Vaughn is a computer genius/supervisor—but since it’s 1961, the women are segregated into the West Computing Office, doing anonymous computing work. That all changes when the Russians successfully send a satellite into orbit, and the head of the Space Task Group, Al Harrison (Kevin Costner) is pressured to follow suit. Katherine is assigned to the Space Task Group, becoming the first African-American woman to do so. She faces run-of-the-mill segregation in the office: she’s not allowed the use the white bathroom, the same coffee pot as everyone else, and she’s not allowed to sit in on meetings. But once she begins to prove how brilliant she is, and how essential she is to sending a man into space, barriers begin to break down.
The performances were good—Henson and Jonáe were perhaps unlucky to miss out on nominations—but what makes Hidden Figures such a powerful movie is the story, that there is no moment where the white man comes in to allow the black woman to take her shot. All three women forge their own chances and excel. Katherine forcefully demands that she sit in on a top-secret Pentagon meeting so she can explain to them how John Glenn can safely re-enter the earth’s atmosphere. Dorothy earns the supervisor position of the new IBM machine because she’s the only one who can figure it out. And in perhaps the most powerful scene in the movie, Mary goes to a judge and convinces him that she needs to be allowed to take engineering classes at the University of Virginia—an all-white school at the time—and later on becomes NASA’s first black woman engineer.
This film serves as a refreshing and timely reminder that everyone deserves the chance to offer something positive to society, especially now.
I think the best chance this film has of winning an Oscar is for Best Adapted Screenplay, even though it’s up against Fences. While it is a good movie, there are simply better movies in the field, and from what I’ve heard, Viola Davis from Fences is going to run away with Best Supporting Actress.
Fun fact: When the film was screened for the real Katherine Johnson, she was pleased at Henson’s accurate portrayal of her, but openly wondered why anyone would want to make a movie of her life.
Scene to watch: The scene where Mary Jackson speaks in court about going to school for her engineering degree. Or the scene when Katherine first enters the Space Task Group; you can feel the tension in the room.
Why you should watch it: It’s such an inspirational story; if you want to see what American heroes look like, you should watch it.
Why you shouldn’t: If you hate women and/or are a blatant racist.
If you’ve seen Hidden Figures, let me know what you thought in the comments!
“Every time we get a chance to get ahead, they move the finish line. Every time.” — Mary Jackson