Hidden Figures

Minor Spoilers: proceed at your own risk.

Hidden Figures is the best movie I’ve seen so far this year, and  it deserves to win a few Oscars.

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Hidden Figures tells the story of three African-American women who worked for NASA in the early days of the space program. Taraji P. Henson from Person of Interest and Empire plays Katherine Goble Johnson, a brilliant mathematician. The real Dr. Johnson celebrated her 98th birthday last summer and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015.  Octavia Spencer plays Dorothy Vaughn, unofficial supervisor of the “Colored Computers” pool, who has the duties of a supervisor, but neither the pay nor the title.  Janelle Monáe plays Mary Jackson, a mathematician whose supervisor wants her to train to be an engineer … something impossible for a Negress in Virginia in the 1960s.

Hidden Figures is a movie about overcoming prejudice.  Hidden Figures is a love story between a handsome colonel and a beautiful mathematician.  Hidden Figures is a portrait of the problems of working mothers (both single mothers and women with husbands to help them). Hidden Figures is a window into the past, to a time not very long ago, but very different.

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The Colored Computers meet John Glenn.    Dorothy, Katherine, and Mary at a chuch picnic

[Images via Fox 2000]

It’s important as a glimpse into the past:  Mrs. Vaughn being escorted from the public library when she goes into the white section instead of the colored section, white and colored water fountains, segregated busing, segregated bathrooms, dial telephones, a courting couple waiting until they’ve known each other for months before their first kiss, computers being a new, strange, and incredibly bulky thing.  For the modern generation, who’ve gotten working calculators as Happy Meal toys, the lack of electronic computers may be the hardest thing to comprehend.

Kevin Costner (Dances with Wolves, The Untouchables) does a great job as Al Harrison, Katherine’s boss, who desegregates the bathrooms when he learns the reason Katherine takes such long breaks is because the nearest Colored Women’s bathroom is in another building, half a mile away.  Jim Parsons (Big Bang Theory) plays engineer Paul Stafford, who looks down on Katherine not only because she’s Colored, but because she’s only a computer. Astronaut John Glenn is portrayed by Glen Powell, who looks at Katherine as though he’s fallen in love when she solves a complicated equation in front of him, and when the new IBM computer has problems, he requests that she double-check its math. Mahershala Ali plays Colonel Jim Johnson, the man who falls in love with Katherine, and Aldis Hodge from Leverage plays Mary’s husband, Levi Jackson.

Katherine JohnsonKatherine G. Johnson [Image via NASA]

Hidden Figures is one of the best movies I’ve ever seen, and I cannot recommend it too highly. If you’re a parent, you may want to set the stage for your children by explaining some of the background first.  You’ll definitely want to discuss it with them afterwards.  I can’t wait until this comes out on DVD, because I want to own this one, and I’m definitely going to the library to see if they have the book it’s based on, Hidden Figures:  The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race, by  Margot Lee Shetterly.

 

 

 

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