I wanted this movie to be great and it was!
So, we went this past weekend. The theater was packed.
Hidden Figures is the story of the African American “Computers” at NASA in the 60s who did the equations for the various missions, including John Glenn’s mission on the Atlas rocket. The movie focuses on Katherine G. Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), and her friends Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae). They work as Computers at NASA, doing all the calculations for rocket tests and flights, by hand. Katherine gets transferred to the group working on manned space flight, headed up by Al Harrison (Kevin Costner), and stuns everyone with her abilities, while still having to put up with a lot of bigoted bullshit, like the only “colored” restroom being half a mile away on the west campus.
At the same time, IBM is installing a mainframe in the Technology Center, and Dorothy Vaughn steals a book on Fortran, when the public library won’t let her check it out of the white section of the library, and teaches herself and the other African American Computers how to program the IBM. And Mary Jackson applies to become an Engineer, only to find out that she needs to attend night classes at the white high school in town, and needs a court injunction to do that.
The performances are truly stellar. Everyone does a fantastic job. Kevin Costner reminds you that he CAN act, and does a fantastic job as the terminally aggravated Mr. Harrison. Jim Parsons from the Big Bang Theory, does a fantastic job as Paul Stafford. But the truly stand out performances are those of Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae, when they fight for what they want, to have their abilities taken seriously.
The actor they got to play John Glenn (Glen Powell) was great, and the Geek Husband What Rules leaned over to ask me, “So, do you think John Glenn was excited that they got someone with hair to play him?” Honestly, I don’t think there was a bad performance in the lot.
The scene that still stands out in my mind, though, is when Katherine, soaking wet from having run the half mile to the west campus to be able to go to the bathroom, loses her shit at Mr. Harrison, and it finally dawns on him that he has not paid any fucking attention to how amazingly awful things are for her. Once he figures it out, he takes steps to alleviate at least some of it (at least in the movie, not sure how that played out in real life).
I highly recommend Hidden Figures as a movie. It does not sugar coat the realities of the Jim Crow south. You see the “coloreds” water fountains, the anti-segregation demonstrations being attacked with police dogs, and footage of interviews with civil rights workers attacked by segregationists. While it doesn’t dwell on how horribly racist the time was, it doesn’t shy away from it either.
I’m not real big on docudrama or biopics, but this one is well worth the price of admission.