Look out Beyonce and Alicia Keys. Black women have new role models to look up to. Directed by Theodore Melfi, Hidden Figures takes its cue from American history and brings the stories of three black women in their pursuit of equal rights to the big screen.
The biographical drama details the lives of Kathrine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson: three African-American women who broke racial barriers and sexist boundaries while working at NASA in the early ‘60s. Hidden Figures focuses on Johnson, a brilliant mathematician who helped put the first American man into space with her affinity for numbers. It sounds like a perfectly crafted Hollywood scenario, only the events depicted actually happened. Appropriately, the movie was released just ahead of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Hidden Figures not only rebuts the old adage that women are bad at math, but shatters it. Katherine Johnson isn’t just smart, she’s so smart you couldn’t possibly calculate it. But she could, of course.
Actress Taraji P. Henson delivers a subtle and quiet performance as Johnson. Henson embodies the spirit of the smart mathematician and mother of three. Janelle Monae provides the comic relief as Mary Jackson with her wit and flirty demeanour with the male characters in the movie. It is perhaps Dorothy Vaughan, played by Octavia Spencer, who best exemplifies the struggles of black women in the workplace when she is denied promotion after promotion.
Despite the challenges faced by our three protagonists, Hidden Figures is a lighter version of history. The characters around them all appear too polite for 1960’s America. The superiors Paul Stafford (Jim Parsons) and Vivian Michael (Kirsten Dunst) are very careful in their behaviour in an unforgiving era. All three women are challenged by racism and sexism in not only the workplace, but in every day life. Coloured washrooms, dirty looks and being overlooked for promotions because of race are just a few of the obstacles the three women face.
Hidden Figures is captivating and informative, a far cry from the hangover of 2016 where movies like Ghostbusters and Bad Moms were criticized by critics and audiences alike and for making women look goofy.
The film has already won 6 of its 9 nominations from the Women Critic Film Circle, including best movie about women in 2016. It also received further nominations including 2 Golden Globes and 3 Oscars.
In 2017 race and gender issues still exist, but Johnson, Vaughan and Jackson’s stories prove it possible for not only black women, but for all women to succeed if they work hard, and want it bad enough. Perhaps one day there will be a Katherine Johnson day.