A film with all the right intentions, Hidden Figures is a celebration of three criminally undervalued black women and their invaluable contributions to the US space programme in the 1960s, as NASA attempts to propel a man into orbit for the first time. Hidden Figures opens with our three protagonists gathered around their broken vehicle, on the way to work. In slightly clunky fashion we are quickly made aware of their different traits. Dorothy is the practical and resourceful mother hen, on her back under the car’s hood trying to get it back up and running. Mary is the mouthy, sassy wannabe engineer and Katherine is the dreamer and an astonishing mathematician. Each woman experiences individual and infuriating prejudice in their attempts to progress, improve and serve their country. Dorothy faces conflict in her fight to be paid and valued appropriately for the work she does. Mary tackles obstacles after applying to be the first female engineer at NASA. Meanwhile, Katherine finds herself recruited to work alongside the minds and men directly responsible for calculating and executing the successful rocket launches. What would be an inspiring and exciting promotion for many is a much more complicated affair for Katherine. A black woman trying to find her voice in a hostile white man’s world, Katherine spends as much time having to prove herself and make herself heard as she does working on the vital mathematics that piles up on her desk. Hidden Figures is a tribute to the astonishing work of three women who helped NASA make history but their most astonishing achievements lie in the grace and relentless determination they demonstrate with every scornful look and door slammed in their faces.
Hidden Figures is conventional feel good film-making, and will appeal to anyone who enjoyed The Help. Twee and undeniably painting by numbers, there is no denying the importance of telling the story of this film’s heart. The central performances from Octavia Spencer, Taraji P. Henson and Janelle Monae are delightful, raw and complemented by one another. Hidden Figures moves between each woman’s uphill struggle, regularly bringing them all together to support and unload upon one another. Kevin Costner is right at home in a role like this, pacing around a glass office demanding numbers and setting endless deadlines. I took issue with several of his scenes where, despite the film’s overall intention to lift up women of colour previously ignored, it felt like a celebration of white men and their patronising compassion towards the women and ethnic minorities around them. The film is also over-stuffed thanks to a romantic narrative that contributes very little. The film’s greatest moments take place in restrooms, libraries and lunch canteens, in scenes that are far more engaging than the tension that builds in control rooms and corporate meetings. Hidden Figures struggles to effectively bring its three main characters to life outside of the restraints of its limiting script and narrative predictability but remains a recommended way to feel good on a cold February night. Besides, I welcome its inspiring reminder of just how powerful, resilient and spectacular a quiet girl in glasses can be.
Thank you for reading and let’s all keep supporting our beloved film industry.