Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Hidden Figures film review

I saw this film yesterday at the Leeds/Bradford Odeon with my friend Aj.

IMB says: The story of a team of African-American women mathematicians who served a vital role in NASA during the early years of the US space program.


In this Theodore Melfi (St. Vincent, Going in Style) directed film, screenplay by Melfi, Allison Schroeder (Mean Girls 2, Pineapple Express) and based on the book by Margot Lee Shetterly, Taraji P. Henson (The Karate Kid (2010), TVs Person of Interest) stars as Katherine G. Johnson one of several African-American women 'human computers' employed by NASA in the space race between the US and Russia.

With her friends Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer: The Help, Being John Malkovich), their unofficial supervisor, and Mary Jackson (musical recording artist, actress and model Janelle Monáe: Friends with Benefits, The Equalizer), who desperately wants to apply to become an engineer, they have to deal with segregation, racial and sexual bias.  Although Dorothy is fulfilling the role of supervisor, she is not given the title nor the pay she is entitled to and her boss, Vivian Mitchell (Kirsten Dunst: Wimbledon, Spider-Man trilogy) seems unwilling to even discuss the discrepancy. 

When Katherine is reassigned to help The Space Task Group, led by Al Harrison (Kevin Costner: Dances with Wolves, Field of Dreams), with analytic geometry, she finds prejudice even when it comes to drinking coffee and going to the bathroom.  She begins to realise that being great at her job is not enough to be considered an equal as her immediate boss Paul Stafford (Jim Parsons: Garden State, TVs The Big Bang Theory) seems particularly keen to keep her out of the loop and out of meetings.  She is a widow with a young family and works hard and long hours to keep her new position, with the consolation of the arrival of a new handsome man, Colonel Jim Johnson (Mahershala Ali: Moonlight, TVs House of Cards) in her personal life.

Mary is reassigned to the wind tunnel team, where her new boss Karl Zielinski (Olek Krupa: Burn After Reading, Salt) encourages her to enrol in a local College so that she can realise her dream of becoming an engineer.  There is just one problem, the only school that offers the right course is an all-white institution and she will have to go to court to petition to attend.  But nothing is going to stop her from reaching her goal, not even her husband Levi (Aldis Hodge: Straight Outta Compton, Die Hard with a Vengence) who sees the barriers and does not want her to get hurt. 

Meanwhile, Dorothy has seen the arrival of the new IBM machine and knows that this will lead to a future that will leave them all without jobs, so she sets about learning all she can to become a programmer.

All three ladies work hard to help realise the NASA dream of getting John Glenn (Glen Powell: The Dark Knight Rises, The Expendables 3) into orbit and back to earth safely.

Taraji P. Henson and Janelle Monáe in Hidden Figures (2016)

With excellent performances all round, this film shows us a fascinating insight into the history of not only the difficult challenges of getting a man into space, but the struggles minority women had to face working back then.  Set in 1961, we follow the lives of the three women working as human 'computers.'  The film is never preachy and delivers the information with compassion and is engaging and entertaining. 

Mostly following Katherine's story, we are taken on her journey feeling along with her the lows (I have to mention a particular moment when Dorothy's boss Mrs Mitchell is telling her that 'they should be grateful they have jobs at all' when a gentleman behind me in the cinema loudly stated that he would have wanted to 'smack her in the mouth') and highs (genuinely joyful and humorous moments like the broken-down car section) and gaining a respect and admiration for these women who accomplished so much in such difficult circumstances.

Although it did not in any way feel like a lecture, I felt educated and both my friend and I wanted to learn more about these amazing women.  My friend found a link to a fascinating interview with Katherine Johnson, details below:

Katherine Johnson, A Black Mathematician, A Math Genius. Her calculations put the first man on the moon and got him back to Earth safely.
An incredible conversation with a NASA Langley pioneer. 

With an incredible soundtrack by Pharrell Williams, available via Entertainment/Columbia Records, this film is a gem of a movie that deserves all of the accolades, including the SAG Award for Outstanding Performance.

Trivia: While John Glenn did specifically request that Katherine Johnson review all of the numbers for the Friendship 7 mission before he would agree to go through with it, he did so weeks before the mission actually took place, not when the countdown to launch was nearing at Cape Canaveral.  The issue with the bathrooms was not something Katherine Johnson personally experienced. It was actually encountered by Mary Jackson instead. In fact, it was this incident, as a result of Jackson ranting to a colleague, which got her moved to the wind tunnel team. Johnson was initially unaware that the East Side bathrooms were even segregated, and used the unlabeled "whites-only" bathrooms for years before anyone complained. When she simply ignored the complaint, the issue was dropped completely.  When Taraji P. Henson signed on for the lead role, she met with the real-life Katherine Johnson, who was 98 years old, to discuss the character she was about to portray. Henson learned that Johnson had graduated from high school at age 14 and from college at age 18, and was still as lucid as anyone years younger. After the film was screened for Johnson, she expressed her genuine approval of Henson's portrayal, but wondered why anybody would want to make a film about her life.

Kevin Costner in Hidden Figures (2016)
Tagline:  Meet the women you don't know, behind the mission you do.                    9/10

Hidden Figures (2016)

#HiddenFigures #Review #TarajiPHenson #OctaviaSpencer #JanelleMonáe #KevinCostner #KirstenDunst #JimParsons #MahershalaAli

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