True stories are most often the best stories, and such is the case with the film Hidden Figures, the tale of three black women who worked for NASA in 1961-62 during the segregation era. They as persons were called ‘colored computers’ by which was meant black women who crunched numbers (hence the double entendre of the film title). The problem with history writing is it often leaves important stories out, and when the filter involves editing out the contributions of people because of their race or sex, then we really have not merely incomplete history telling, but biased and distorted history telling.
Let me just say that the acting is terrific not surprisingly when you have a cast of Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae, Kirsten Dunst, Kevin Costner, and Jim Parsons. The film is free of violence and bad language and sex scenes, and for 127 minutes we have an excellent film with no extraneous scenes. The tension of the story comes from the double whammy these three black women faced— both racism and sexism. In some cases it impeded them from getting sufficient education to be able to advance in their careers, due to the fact that the courses they needed to take were at all white schools. In some cases the issue was an all white male work environment where there were all sorts of erroneous things assumed about women in general, never mind black women. An added bonus is the excellent score by Pharrell Williams and Hans Zimmer.
One thing I especially appreciated about the film is that the characters were nuanced. For example, when Kevin Costner’s character realized that racism and sexism was preventing Mary Jackson from doing her best work, he did something about it. But it required a consciousness raising. And even the rather racism cop at the beginning of the film had his consciousness raised when he learned that these 3 black ladies worked for NASA, and his patriotism trumped his racism.
I recommend this film to families and to really anyone, especially in our current situation with racism raising its ugly head again in our country from Charleston to Chicago, from St. Louis to Dallas and back again. Let’s be clear— racism and sexism as sins. Serious sins. They are clear indicators of just how fallen human beings can be when they type-cast people by color and gender, and put derogatory labels on them so they can justify demeaning them or even killing them. While we have come some good distance from 1961 when it comes to racism and sexism, there is still plenty around, and this film helps us see just what is wrong with it, and why it must be opposed.