Review: ‘Hidden Figures’

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Julia Zaksek , Jr. managing editor

After World War II drew to a bloody close, another war, the longest in our nation’s history, began: the Cold War. In a time of clashing ideologies, extreme nationalism and great anxiety, America looked to heroes who had preserved their nation and its ideals. White, blonde and decidedly masculine men rose to the Russian’s challenge, particularly in a field that symbolized the war’s conflict like no other: the Space Race.

However, unbeknownst to the American people of the ’60s, it was a group of people who were still fighting for their rights who were true American heroes. Black, bold women, hidden from the eyes of an intolerant crowd, helped win the Space Race and shaped the math and science behind it. “Hidden Figures” is the story of their untold triumph.

“Hidden Figures” follows the careers of three women, Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe), at NASA shortly after Russia launched the Sputnik satellite into space. So begins America’s frantic attempts to send a man successfully into space, and Johnson’s more subtle attempts to convince her colleagues the color of her skin holds no bearing on her abilities to get him there.

Subtlety is what makes “Hidden Figures” so believable and poignant. Far too often, cinematic depictions of racial conflict and/or tension appears overdone and melodramatic, taking from the authenticity and impact of characters’ struggles. “Hidden Figures” artfully overcomes this, relying on the lingering glances, the lulls in conversations and tremendous leading performance by Henson to impart the injustice and discrimination of the ’60s, especially in the male-dominated science fields. This accurate and honest depiction of racism makes every triumph by the three leading ladies so much more satisfactory and sweet; the audience in my crowded theater broke out in applause throughout the film, myself included.

At times, “Hidden Figures” did walk the border of sentimentalism and theatrics. Some situations turned out just a little too perfect for the harsh reality they took place in, but the film always found its footing again, wrapping up to a realistic, but hopeful, conclusion.

“Hidden Figures” is not simply a great movie because of what it did on screenit is a great movie because of what I know it will do off screen. As I was exiting the theater, I saw a young girl coming out behind me. Watching her dancing and smiling over her shoulder at her mom, I couldn’t help but smile too. Great films don’t just transform their characters, they transform their audiences too.

A+