Since the fall, a certain movie has been seen all over social media, starring household names such as Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monáe. Simply going on Facebook would show the trailer for “Hidden Figures,” with the caption, “I can’t wait to see this movie!”
Directed by Theodore Melfi, and based on the book by Margot Lee Shetterly entitled “Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race,” the film couldn’t have come at a better time. After being released on Dec. 25, 2016, it has made over $72 million in the box office, and numbers don’t lie.
Telling the true story of African-American NASA employees Katherine Johnson (Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Monáe), working their way up through segregation in the ’60s, these women were a part of the team who sent astronaut John Glenn into orbit. The movie mainly focused on Johnson, who worked closely with Al Harrison, played by Kevin Costner, who was the head of the Space Task Group, and Paul Stafford, played by Jim Parsons. The leading ladies in the film came against discrimination because of their race and gender, something that is unfortunately still happening in our country today.
Many of the actors in the film were in roles that viewers have never seen them in. Henson is known for her role as Cookie in the FOX drama Empire, and Parsons for his role as Shelden Cooper in CBS’ The Big Bang Theory. A different role from his comedy sitcom, Parsons told NBC’s Today Show that he had a difficult time excepting his role, Paul Stafford being someone who wasn’t so accepting of Katherine’s new position in the Space Task Group. Monáe’s acting career took off in 2016, her most known profession being music, with popular songs such as “Tightrope” and a guest feature on Fun.’s “We Are Young” from 2012. Kirsten Dunst, most known for her role in Bring It On, played Vivian Michael in the film, one of the supervisors that worked with Dorothy.
Although the overall theme of the film was gender and racial equality, the bits of humor throughout made it all more enjoyable. Monáe’s character Mary brought humor that the audience was looking for. Her spunky attitude and confidence for getting what she wanted was inspiring, thus resulting her as NASA’s first African-American female engineer. Spencer’s character Dorothy fought tooth and nail throughout the film to gain the title of supervisor in her department in the West Area on NASA, eventually becoming NASA’s first African-American supervisor.
As for Henson’s character, Katherine, an extremely gifted mathematician, she worked as Harrison’s “computer,” walking into a room full of white men. Katherine worked with the launch for Alan Shepard, who was the first American in space, and after the new IBM machine came into the office, which would calculate equations much faster than a person, Katherine was still needed for Glenn’s trip into space, where he personally asked for her approval of coordinates of takeoff and landing, according to NASA’s online biography oh Katherine.
Throughout the film, you see the three ladies gaining more and more confidence, especially when they’re surrounded with racial discrimination. During the continuation of Katherine having to rush half a mile just to go to the bathroom because there was no colored ones in the new building she worked at, the audience couldn’t help but chuckle. When Katherine was confronted about her 40 minute bathroom break, she tells the truth to Harrison, which then turns into a scene where Henson shows the viewers the pain of an African-American women in the ’60s:
“There are no colored bathrooms in this building, or any building outside the West Campus, which is half a mile away. Did you know that?… And simple necklace pearls. Well, I don’t own pearls. Lord knows you don’t pay the colored enough to afford pearls! And I work like a dog day and night, living on coffee from a pot none of you want to touch!” (Quote obtained from imdb.com).
This film was something that America needed. Our country is in a state of division, where both men and women are afraid to be who they truly are, and are standing up for their rights against our government. Hidden Figures shows three women of color who strive to be at the top, to see the “colored restroom” sign be knocked down by Harrison, and work hard for their children to have better lives. Viewers should keep in the back of their minds that this is based on a true story and it’s movies like this that will wake people up, show the reality of the world, and encourage us to fight for what we believe in.