Director: Theodore Melfi
Quick Hit: In the early 1960s, as the U.S. seeks to surpass the Soviet Union in the space race, three mathematically and technologically gifted African-American women must cope with racism and sexism while performing vital tasks at NASA’s segregated Virginia facilities. ~ Oscars.go.com
The Good: This is a movie I am not supposed to enjoy by every stretch of the imagination. I am NOT a history buff, so the unless we get into “Abraham Lincoln – Vampire Hunter” territory, I seldom get caught watching anything slightly historical. This movie would not be denied though. The cast is phenomenal! Henson, Spencer, and new comer Monáe bring forth three very grounded, fun, engaging performances as Katherine Johnson (Henson), Dorthy Vaughn (Spencer), and Mary Jackson (Monáe).
You believe these women are all genuinely friends and absolutely brilliant. Given that they do not shy away from the math talk at all, the movie falls apart immediately if they cannot BRING IT!
Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst, and Jim Parsons round out the supporting cast with on point performances. Pharell Williams brings his flavor to the soundtrack in a way that delightfully blend his modern sounds with the times of the film. I originally thought it was going to stick out, but everything flowed naturally.
The Bad: Okay…
Let’s get uncomfortable for some and talk about “the white savior”. If you are unfamiliar with term, it is the idea that in movie/tv/etc there is an unwritten rule that people of color seemingly cannot overcome obstacles completely on their own and require a “white savior” to push their agenda forward… or save the village.. or whatever. Sometimes it lends itself into “whitewashing” (i.e. a movie about THE GREAT WALL OF CHINA… starring MATT FUCKING DAMON)…
but thats another Breakdown altogether! I watched Hidden Figures without that whole “based on a true story” tag bothering me much and really enjoy it. I felt that they limited the white savior points and kept focus on the leads… but then I stumbled upon the truth. In a very awe inspiring scene, Katherine Johnson snaps on her boss (Costner) and her co-workers. She had been disappearing for large chunks of the day to run across the facility to use the colored women’s restroom (unbeknownst to Costner). When he discovers what she been put through, he uses a crow bar to desegregate the bathroom because “we all pee the same color”.
Rousing moment… fictional moment. Yeah, this never happened. Johnson said she used whatever bathroom she saw fit. This damages the movie in my eyes because this (and another later moment) are powerful to the story of these women, but are completely fictional. If the idea of the film was to spotlight these women and their contributions, this sort of thing undercuts the story. I believe America needs to just get used to the fact that slavery happened… same with segregation. We need to eliminate the white savior and stop saying #NotAllWhitePeople to tell a more pleasant story. The truth is not always going to be pretty, but it is what we deserve.
Overall: Do not let my gripes sway you away from this film at all. I still love it, and clearly the award circuits support it as well. I wish it had been just a slightly more faithful adaptation of the truth, but hey… In Hollywood, Ben Affleck can play a Latino and win an Oscar, so I guess I should be happy with what I get.
All and all… Hidden Figures has a great cast, pleasant soundtrack, and a powerful, must-be-known story. It is a family affair, so bring the kids and get educated and inspired! Rating: