Hidden Figures is a 2016 American biographical drama film directed by Theodore Melfi and co-written by Allison Schroeder. The movie is based of a non-fiction book of the same title by Margot Lee Shetterly, about female African-American mathematicians working at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The film stars Taraji P. Henson as Katherine G. Johnson, an African-American mathematician who calculated flight trajectories for Project Mercury, the first human spaceflight programme of the United States of America, and other important space missions. The film also features Octavia Spencer as Dorothy Vaughan and Janelle Monáe as Mary Jackson, with Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst, Jim Parsons, Glen Powell and Mahershala Ali playing supporting roles.
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The film starts off with the introduction of Katherine G. Johnson’s younger self, performing above-average at 6th at the West Virginia State College. She then attended the West Virginia University as one of the three African-Americans, and the only female, to be integrated into the graduate school since the United States Supreme Court ruling that made sure the “Blacks” had access to compulsory education as well.
This scene then transitioned into showing Katherine G. Johnson in her late 30s, now working at NASA as a “human computer” who calculated take-off and landing trajectories of NASA’s space crafts. This then gave us an insight into the lives of the three main protagonists of the film – Katherine, Dorothy and Mary, and their struggle during the implementation of Black Codes – a series of laws that restricted the freedom of the African-Americans back in the 1960s.
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This historically-accurate film takes you all the way back to the 1960s, and puts you in the shoes of an African-American; as you feel their pain and humiliation due to the upright segregation they faced; having to eat in a separate cafeteria at NASA meant for “coloured” people, use restrooms meant for “coloured” people, drink from water coolers meant for “coloured” people, and even borrow books from a library meant for… you guessed it – “coloured” people.
Even though Hidden Figures explores grim subjects, this was an overall ‘feel-good’ movie. It manipulates comedy and sadness well, and this juxtaposition in the film made the characters seem more pitiful and allows the audience to empathise better with the protagonists. There was a point in the film where Taraji P. Henson’s character (Katherine G. Johnson) delivered a stunning monologue which left the entire movie theatre in silence and tears, and it even made me tear up. Let me just say, I did not whimper a bit even when I watched Train to Busan, so Taraji’s acting was more than superb and the lack of an Oscar nomination baffles me.
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This film just hits you in all the right spots and leaves you feeling emotional. One may think that a movie biography on the lives of mathematicians should be pretty boring, but trust me, take that leap of faith and catch Hidden Figures in cinemas from the 23rd of February, and you will not regret it.
Writer: Foo Wee San