Based on the true stories of three African-American women, Hidden Figures follows Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer), Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) and Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson) in 1961 as they fought against gender, race and professional lines to work their way up the ranks of NASA and become three important players in the United States’ race against the Russians to put a man in space.
Although the film is based on NASA and the maths surrounding it (a lot of which went over my head!), the main point of the story is to highlight the struggles that women, and particularly coloured women, faced during that time. Katherine, who was used as a ‘human computer’ thanks to her incredible mathematician skills, was the first coloured women in the Space Task Group. The men in her team instantly dismiss her as incapable and force her to drink coffee out of a separate urn, such is their discomfort at her presence. Katherine is also forced to run miles across the NASA campus (in heels!) to the only coloured bathroom available. However she perseveres and her talent for maths soon puts her ahead of the others leading her to be an integral part of the team that sent astronaut John Glenn (Glen Powell) into space.
Mary Jackson, after discovering a flaw in the experimental space capsules heat shields, is encouraged to pursue an engineering degree. However her application is rejected within NASA as she doesn’t have the correct qualifications – something which is only available to her at the nearby ‘Whites Only’ school. Mary takes the decision to court, to fight for her right to go to the classes and become the first coloured woman engineer.
Dorothy Vaughn’s request to be promoted to supervisor is rejected with the reasoning that a supervisor isn’t needed as she does the work anyway. She is then informed that the women’s positions as ‘human computers’ might not be needed for much longer thanks to the new technology being brought in. Dorothy takes it upon herself to learn and then teach the women what they need to know in order to advance alongside the new technology.
The three lead women are brilliantly played, individually each story is told passionately but together the three really work perfectly alongside each other. There is a genuine affection between the characters and the support they show for each other in their individual pursuits is heartwarming. There is an incredibly moving speech from Katherine when the pressure to work alongside the disrespectful men finally takes its tole – beautifully acted by Taraji – and will have you rooting even more for her to prove them all wrong. The rest of the cast is filled with well-known faces including Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst and Jim Parsons (who’s character is not too dissimilar from his usual role of Sheldon in The Big Bang Theory!).
Overall Hidden Figures is a very powerful film about three women’s lives whose stories most definitely deserve to be told. The film ends with images of the real women and information as to what they went on to achieve. Their determination to succeed against all the opposition is inspiring and moving. Their stories have been beautifully told and rightly so it has been nominated for 3 Oscars (Best Picture, Best Actress in a Supporting Role – Octavia Spencer, and Adapted Screenplay). Definitely a film that everyone should watch and talk about!