I’m getting real tired of history lessons from Hollywood feature films. All I ever heard growing up was about Harriett Tubman, Crispus Attucks, Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Nat Turner and Rosa Parks.
Now, Hollywood has introduced me to Solomon Northrup (12 Years A Slave) and in 2017 here comes “Hidden Figures”.
Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn and Mary Jackson were part of team of African-American women, referred to as “human computers”, who assisted in coordinating the mathematical data necessary to launch America’ s first successful space mission.
Based on the book by Margot Lee Shetterly, “Hidden Figures” gives up a bird’s-eye view to just how these women – black and white computed equations with an uncanny precision to aid astronauts flying in and out of the earth’s stratosphere.
All three of our leading women handle these real life heroines with respect, dignity and high-quality portrayals that each and every one of them deserves.
Mostly known for her star-making turn as Cookie Lyon in Fox-TV’s monster hit “Empire”, Taraji P. Henson makes Cookie a thing of the past. Self-admittedly having no mathematical skills, Henson memorized the ridiculously complex equations for her scenes as Katherine Johnson. She should get an award for that alone! But, it’s her acting chops that will remind audiences of why we fell in love with her in the first place. That vulnerability, spunk and realness for which Taraji masters is ever-present in Katherine.
Without spoiling it for you, there is a scene when asked why she is nowhere to be seen on her lunch break, that will break your heart, piss you off and make you proud all at the same time.
Dorothy Vaughn played by Oscar winner Octavia Spencer will tickle you pink with the craftiness she uses to make sure when NASA switches to IBM machines, Dorothy and her team are ready, willing and able. I especially like that fact that she refers to the machine as a “girl”. Octavia plays Dorothy as one who shoots straight from the hip without being offensive or condescending. It’s a hard-line to straddle and Spencer does it with a beautiful gusto.
However, it is Grammy nominated artist turned actress Janelle Monae that will surprise you! There is an ease to her acting that never feels forced or fake. Her portrayal of Mary Jackson,as with the other two women, is one of spunk, confidence and class. She exudes this same quality with her character in the indie darling hit “Moonlight”.
Kevin Costner, one of my favs, is the perfect choice to play Al Harrison. Although Harrison is none too thrilled about having Katherine Johnson on his team, he respects her brilliance, confidence and determination. This is one of Costner’s best performance to date.
Mahershala Ali is having the time of his life. Being honored many times over for his performances on Netflix’s “House of Cards” and the A24 indie film “Moonlight”, as the young suitor vying to win Katherine’s heart he shows that his range is vast and wide.
During this era in time, there were always a handful of people thinking that they “aren’t like the others”. After all, they know and respect several people of color. Kirsten Dunst as Vivian Michael makes her ignorance known in a more ways than one and gets the wind knocked out of her sails as only someone like her should.
As much as I love Jim Parsons, his portrayal of Paul Stafford is a much tamer version of his Emmy winning character from The Big Bang Theory.
Not since Chicago, have I screened a film where the audience was fully invested in the story to the point where they became verbally open with their feelings. And…this was a screening at Fox Studios!!!!
Hidden Figures and the story of these brave, bold women should be an inspiration and reminder that women can accomplish anything they put their minds to. I wholeheartedly wish that this is a requirement to watch in schools all over America.
Distributed by 20th Century Fox, Hidden Figures will be in selected cities today and in wide release on January 6th.