Thursday, February 2, 2017

Hidden Figures

Hidden Figures is one of the most well-written, perfectly-cast and superbly-told stories I've seen this year. Sadly, it is especially timely, but it is also an incredibly inspiring story. One that I am ashamed to say, I was not familiar with. I imagine several of us were unaware of the three African-American women, heroes really, who worked for NASA in the 1960s and ultimately helped launch our space program and get a man on the moon. The trio of ladies (played brilliantly by Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae) is supported by an excellent cast including Kevin Costner, Jim Parsons and Mahershala Ali. This film has everything you could possibly want, including catchy, old-school-sounding original songs by Pharrell. What more could you want in a movie?!

We meet our protagonist Katherine Goble Johnson (Henson) when she is just a child. Calling her a skilled math whiz is an understatement - she can handle any numbers thrown at her. As an adult, Katherine and her fellow masterminds Dorothy Vaughan (Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Monae) fight their way to equality, or rather simply, recognition at NASA. Each woman has her own personal struggle: Katherine, to get credit for her correct calculations that co-worker Paul (Parsons) takes credit for; Dorothy, to get the title and pay of supervisor, since she is doing the work of one; and Mary, to take courses at an all-white school and become the first female African-American engineer for NASA. It's no spoiler alert that all women accomplish their goals, and then some.

There is humor among the heartbreak, most notably from one-liners delivered by Monae, who is certainly having her season on the screen - she shared it earlier this year with Mahershala Ali in "Moonlight". Ali also shines here as Katherine's suitor and later husband. We see the ladies run half a mile across NASA's campus just to use the bathroom, and they are forced to drink from separate coffee pots - a reminder of the disrespect African-Americans received not only in the workplace, but in society.

While Octavia snagged an Oscar nomination, this is really Taraji P's show. She brought such grace to her character and the touching moments she shares with her daughters gives me chills just thinking about them. Jim Parsons, while in a terribly cruel role, does a fantastic job at it. It's no wonder this cast won the SAG Award.

Hearing cheers in the audience for several large and small accomplishments throughout the film was inspiring, and people of all ages, races and genders will appreciate this story. I always say, the truth is stranger and more exciting than fiction. This is definitely one of those stories. For a really great read, check out this article from the Winston-Salem Journal.

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