Women of any color will love this movie.
Hidden Figures, directed with style by Theodore Melfi, is an engrossing historical drama outlining the roles that three African-American women played at NASA when John Glenn was rocketed into orbit in 1962. It also places the audience front and center on how racial discrimination penetrated the South at that time, something that was seen in this year’s Loving.
In that regard, any white movie fan should try to see this powerful film in a theater where the audience is predominantly African-American. I saw it in a packed theater at the Georgetown Cinema here in Indianapolis, and I was the only Caucasian in the crowd. It was rewarding to hear black women repeatedly laugh, cheer and moan throughout the entire movie, not to mention clapping loudly at the end.
And there were multiple reasons to do so. To begin with, three African-American women played by Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae played brilliant young mathematicians who NASA employed to try to conquer problems so that the United States could get a man into space. Given that the Russians had just done so with Yuri Gagarin, our government could not tolerate allowing the Soviet Union to circle the globe with unknown intentions.
Much as he did in last year’s McFarland USA, Kevin Costner tackles a role that highlights ethnic and racial tensions in our country. Here, he plays Al Harrison, the head man of the NASA group, and he is forced to confront racial prejudice manifesting itself in many ugly ways, not the least of which were bathrooms for “colored” people isolated blocks away from offices where our ladies worked. It wasn’t so much that he was a fan of Martin Luther King as he simply needed to make sure that African-American women’s jobs were not impeded by working conditions.
Octavia Spencer is phenomenal playing Dorothy Vaughn, the matron trying to guide her two younger colleagues. Ms. Henson appears as Katherine Johnson, a math expert who fought to be recognized in an office where everyone else was white. Finally, Ms. Monae appeared as Mary Jackson, a smart and sassy woman with an engaging sarcastic personality. She played a strong role in this year’s Moonlight.
Glen Powell plays the late John Glenn, a future astronaut without a bone of prejudice in his body. He wasn’t remotely concerned with the skin color of people working on his flight as long as NASA allowed the most competent people to work on the success of his journey.
While Hidden Figures focuses on Glenn becoming the first man to orbit the Earth while nearly dying on his descent, you also get to see first hand a historical demonstration that our country has never fully been the “land of the free and home of the brave.” Tragically, racial disparity continues to poison our country to this very day.