A flawless presentation of perseverance through adversity
A 5 star rating should be incredibly hard to earn; it states that the story the narrative has set out to tell has been delivered flawlessly. Well, that’s the only way to describe Hidden Figures. The story is an incredible adaptation of Margot Lee Shetterly’s novel Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race. Depicting the struggle of African American women working for NASA, it is made only the more captivating by the fact that it is based on a true story.
The three main women, Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae deliver stunning portrayals of Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, so believable and emotionally engaging that you just can’t help but be taken on their journey with them. This story has remained ‘untold’ for over 40 years and it truly feels that it is done justice within this film, giving the respect, appreciation and gratitude that these women deserve. There is no shying away from the ugly truth of 1960s culture towards black people and there is no attempt at having the story told through another’s perspective, as sometimes Hollywood does when faced with issues of diversity. Instead, the three leads are truly allowed the creative room to tell the story of their characters which, though perhaps more attention is given to Henson, is mostly divided equally between them.
There is always a fear with films that claim to be based on truth, that they actually hold very little resemblance to what happened. However, after a little research it appears as though the story is extraordinarily close to real life events. The time lines are a little off (Glenn did ask Johnson to recheck the numbers but she had days rather than hours to do so) but other than that, which can be forgiven as ‘Hollywood flare’, the audience is watching is a true story.
It is refreshing that the female characters are allowed to tell their career stories without being forced to have love interests or other domestic concerns grab their attention as has become a trope for women in films. There is a nice balance of the women and their struggles at work, with comic relief and entertainment through glimpses into their social lives. That being said, Hollywood does not completely abandon its mould as Henson’s character marries Colonel Jim Johnson (Mahershala Ali). However, even this is a nice change from the expected romantic encounter as she is a widow and a single mother and they are both older.
Despite the many praises one can give this film, there are little moments that do not quite resonate. For instance, the portrayal of Johnson having to continuously use the bathroom 0.5 miles away, leaving her tired, frustrated and in trouble for being away from her desk for so long. Whilst this is later explained and in hindsight can be seen as a metaphor for the obstacles put in front of African American workers, initially it seems as though she just needed to use the bathroom a lot, creating a toilet humour which was a far cry from the clever, sarcastic wit that characterised the rest of the film.
If you only see one film this year, (which would be odd but each to their own), make it Hidden Figures. The story it tells is vital and one that everyone should hear. From perfect casting, excellent hair and make up, to a wonderfully constructed script, this film will be guaranteed to keep you captivated for all 127 minutes.
Hidden Figures (2017), directed by Theodore Melfi, is distributed by 20th Century Fox. Certificate PG.