Certain words are banded around so often, there is always that danger of them losing their meaning and emotional heft. In the case of Hidden Figures the word ‘inspiring’ has been used countless of times to describe the brilliance of Theodore Melfi’s masterpiece, that in all truth the word has finally lost its resonance. But, it isn’t just descriptive words like inspiring that have lost meaning in the presence of Hidden Figures – in reality, it’s all words. Why? Well, Hidden figures is so incredible that all words seem to pale in comparison and no longer feels adequate enough to articulate its truly life affirming quality. In the end, in the face of Hidden Figures all you can do is just stand up, applaud and enshrine the movie in your memories forever.
Since its release, Hidden figures has instantly become the darling of critics across the land and with colossal Box Office takings of $144 million globally – making it the highest grossing Best Picture contender this year, it also seems movie goers the world over have also responded spectacularly to the film. Better yet, in such divisive and inharmonious times, Hidden figures, a film that puts the incredible contribution and talents of PoC on center stage, it suddenly takes on an all together greater degree of importance.
In 1960’s America, after spending all morning tussling with a broken down car in sweltering heat, seeing a police car approaching from the distance would be a sight for sore eyes – if you’re White, that is. And If you were Black, well, such a sight could get your heart pounding quicker than anything else can. Fear and panic was certainly bubbling away under the polite exteriors of Katherine G. Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) as an imposing White officer climbed out of his vehicle and ambled suspiciously towards them. If the women were White he would’ve been bending over backwards to help them, but, because they’re Black he is immediately on guard and distrustful.
After a line of questioning surprisingly reveals that all three of these women work for NASA, the officer is instantly taken back – these aren’t the White men he originally perceived to be working at the biggest space station in the world. After a period of longingly gazing towards the stars, with glee he then offers to escort the three women sirens blazing and wheels screeching to NASA. This opening scene alone encapsulates perfectly the message underpinning Hidden Figures – race and our differences should never outweigh the progression of mankind and impede our collective journey towards the stars. In the immortal words of Neil Armstrong, “One small leap for man; one giant leap for mankind.”
However, while such a truth was made abundantly clear to audiences, unfortunately such enlightenment wasn’t apparent to the men of NASA at the time. Coloured bathrooms, hostility and constant underestimating, the women’s talent is consistently overlooked and each is treated like a second class citizen, despite proving on many occasions that they can contribute greatly to beating Russia in the Space Race. Fortunately, overcoming odds was written into the very DNA of Katherine, Dorothy and Mary, and it isn’t too long before each of their individual geniuses can no longer be ignored. From calculating rocket trajectories to coding super computers, there is certainly no stopping this visionary trio.
I have to be honest with you, I’m absolutely flabbergasted that Henson didn’t receive an Oscar nomination for her absolutely SEISMIC performance. Emotionally gripping from start to finish, there was rarely a moment in the film that this phenomenal actress didn’t immediately capture your awe and engage with you on a deeper gut level. The moments with her love interest Mahershala Ali were both endearing and sweet, while the heft shown in the scene in which she finally confronts the NASA scientists on their bigotry was powerful enough to shake the ground right beneath your feet. Ultimately, If Hidden Figures is anything to go by, just like her recent success on the small screen, Henson is destined to become a cinematic institution in the vein of the almighty – dare I say it – Meryl Streep.
It’s extraordinary to me that it took until 2017 for the incredible stories of Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson and to be told, because such stories would’ve done wonders to inspire generations of women as well as PoC to look towards STEM and more importantly to the stars and beyond – but I guess better late than never… Director Theodore Melfi should also be accredited for being able to smuggle tense racial politics into an accessible film that could appeal to the masses. I feel he was able to cleverly do this by dusting away the division in the sand between Black and White, and instead really focusing on what united the American people – ambition, patriotism and a thirst for the unknown. Against the back drop of racial segregation, Melfi made Hidden Figures all about unity.
After the controversy of #OscarsoWhite last year, hopefully the success at the box office and the undoubted success to come at the Oscars, Hidden Figures will demonstrate to studios in the same way as the likes of Moonlight and Fences are doing, that Black lead films can do well financially and critically, thus compelling producers to seek out more stories like them and also back the emerging Black talents telling them. As 2016 has demonstrated, people are sick and tired of not having their voices heard and thus the more diverse the voices we hear, the more we all benefit as an entire people. After all, “One small leap for man; one giant leap for mankind.”