As the 2017 begins the good people at Fox have graced us with the inspirational “Hidden Figures,” the first “feel good” film of the New Year.
As the Cold War looms, the United States and the Soviet Union are in a battle to be the first to enter the heavens. The Russians dispatch monkeys, dogs and whatever else will fit in a space capsule high up into the atmosphere, hoping to be the first nation to conquer the blackness of space. As the stakes get higher we join the proceedings at Langley Air Force Base, in Virginia, already in progress. It is here that we meet three of the best “computers” that NASA possesses: Katherine Johnson (Taraji P.Henson), Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (played with good, old fashioned sass by newcomer Janelle Monae). They are African-American braniacs whose job is to compute figures for the space program. Of course, this is Virginia in 1962 so they are kept in the “colored computer” room. When a “computer” is requested to help plan the flight of astronaut John Glenn doors are opened, though at a snail’s pace.
Uplifting, if not a little heavy handed, “Hidden Figures” is based on the true story of three very remarkable women and all three stars make the wise choice of not being stereotypical in their performances. Though the fact that they are black is an important part of the story, they could have been green as far as the upper brass at NASA is concerned. They’re not told that a BLACK woman has never sat in on a briefing. They are informed that ANY woman has never been and probably never will. However it is the proudness the ladies show in both their race and gender that carry the film along. In supporting roles, Jim Parsons may find himself typecast forever in scientific roles as he plays one of the main planners of the Glenn mission while Kevin Costner is quite credible as the man who must make the decisions necessary for a successful mission. It took me until the end credits to recognize Kirsten Dunst, who co-stars as one of NASA’s HR people. She is also strong here. The film does get a little heavy handed at times, including a scene where Kevin Costner takes aim at a sign reading “Colored Restroom,” ripping it off the wall and assumingly ending racial separation as far as bathrooms are concerned.
With the recent passing last month of John Glenn, “Hidden Figures” is a solid tribute to his courage as well as the courage of the women behind the man.