HIDDEN FIGURES Is An Incredible, Inspiring Portrait Of Fighting For Equality
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When we think of fighting for equal rights, we often think about the big things. We think about the marches and speeches and Supreme Court victories. We don’t think about the ground level stuff, the stuff where ordinary people have to claw and fight back against systemic oppression. Hidden Figures is a wonderful, inspiring look at that fight, a fight we don’t often see or hear about.

Taraji P. Henson’s Katherine Johnson, Octavia Spencer’s Dorothy Vaughan and Janelle Monae’s Mary Jackson are three NASA “computers”, a term for people who are really good at calculations in a time before MacBooks and Windows, trying to navigate a still-segregated world.

Each of the three women has a different goal. Dorothy is trying to become recognized as a supervisor because she’s doing all the work without any of the benefits. Mary is a gifted, natural engineer that can’t become an engineer because the only schools that’ll give her the needed qualifications are all-white. Katherine is a legit genius who is called up to make very important calculations to send a man into orbit, but runs into “the way things are,” which handicap her abilities.

Hidden Figures quickly and thoroughly puts the audience through the ringer of systematic oppression. We’re experiencing the same handicaps these women go through. They have to make the white police officer feel good about himself to get any real help, they can’t become engineers despite clearly being better engineers than many white men, their work isn’t taken seriously, they have to walk a mile to go to the bathroom, they can’t afford basic uniform requirements, they’re kicked out of a library for wanting a book from the non-colored section.

The movie makes this stuff exhausting, so much so that you get frustrated and angry at how many obstacles are in their way. Halfway through, the film begins to shift. The women start to poke through because of their brilliance, their clawing starts carving through the segregation and they start getting rewarded for their work as anyone else. All that frustration you experience is met with absolute joy, and you’re elated and happy and will want to yell “Yes thank you!” at the screen.

The women go about their goals in different ways, giving us a wide look at how people can fight. There is not one way, there are multiple ways. Dorothy is a little more subdued, she likes to let her work and accomplishments speak for themselves. She decides that the only way to break through is to out-prepare everyone else. Mary is on the opposite side of the spectrum, she’s louder and fights her way through in the biggest way possible. Katherine is a mix of the two, and combines the loudness of Mary and the action of Dorothy to push forward on her own path.

Henson, Monae and Spencer bring Katherine, Mary and Dorothy to brilliant life. They’re amazing, bringing an inner strength and incredible delivery to each of these characters. They all have to let the audience live through them, but they’re defined enough to still be strong characters. Their performances are so great that it’s hard not to imagine Katherine, Mary and Dorothy instantly becoming heroes to all kinds of people.

The only real problem with Hidden Figures is that sometimes the dialogue is a little bit on the nose, but that feels like a nitpick considering how much legwork the movie has to do to fully immerse the audience in the frustrations of being black in 1960s America.

There is no overt, loud racism in Hidden Figures. There’s no figure spewing the n-word and threatening lives. There are regular people buying into a system because that’s how it is. None of the white characters in the film come across as evil, they just come across as people used to a certain status quo. It’s the insidious racism that makes systemic racism work, and Hidden Figures is a great portrait of fighting through that.

Hidden Figures is incredible. It puts you in the shoes of the oppressed so you can actually feel the suffocation of systemic racism. It’s filled with excellent performances and, while it brings you down with frustration, it’s also able to lift you up with hope and optimism that things can change.