Latest posts by Oliver Ledingham-Smith (see all)
- ‘Hidden Figures’ tells a remarkably unheard of true story of galactic proportions - February 7, 2019
- Avengers: Infinity War Is A Success That’s Ten Years In The Making - December 10, 2018
- Review: ‘John Wick: Chapter 2’ Is, By Default, The Franchise’s Best And Bloodiest - November 29, 2018
Despite one of the most famous speeches in history (‘I have a dream’) there is unfortunately no denying the fact that racism is still rampant in some parts of the United States today, and it is made even more disturbing when you stop and consider the fact that these views are held by someone who holds the most powerful seat in the Free World. Having said that, Hidden Figures is set in 1961, when racism wasn’t just rampant, it was enforced via the medium of segregation.
If you were black, you had your place; if you were white, you rode high on your white privilege (something that is still happening today, in the twenty-first century, and yes, it’s annoying and upsetting). It was even worse if you were a black woman, because not only was it racially segregated, but also gender segregated. You had but an ounce more respect if you were a black man. That is why Hidden Figures is an untold true story: because the white community did not want to accept or acknowledge that they received help from black women, because if they did that, they would have to accept the humbling reality that black women were better than them, and then they would become as ostracised as the women whom they were attempting to suppress in the first place.
Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer), Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe), and Katherine G. Johnson (Taraji P. Henson) are three African-American women who work in NASA, Katherine as a human computer, Mary as an aspiring engineer, and Dorothy as their unofficial acting-supervisor, who has to deal with the passive aggressive demeanour of her boss Vivian Mitchell (Kirsten Dunst). Meanwhile, Katherine is faced with a bigger problem (if it can be called as such), as she has to contend with the outright dismissiveness of her new colleagues when she becomes the first black woman to join Al Harrison’s (Kevin Costner) Space Task Group.
The reason that she is offered the position is due to her skills in analytic geometry, which understandably make her an asset as the pressure to send American astronauts into space has increased due to the successful Soviet launch of Yuri Gagarin. Hidden Figures doesn’t just follow Katherine, even though she is a huge part of the story, but also her two colleagues. This means that we get to witness as Dorothy is turned down for a promotion that doesn’t look like it is ever going to happen, and Mary begins to pursue a degree in engineering so that she can be an official NASA engineer, and also the first black female engineer.
The main story thread of this biological drama film is primarily about Katherine, and the hardships that she faces in life and the workplace. She is shunned by nearly every one of her new colleagues, most notably by Paul Stafford (Jim Parsons), who can’t stand the fact that there is someone new on the team who is smarter than him. Just to make matters even more humiliating for Stafford, she’s a black woman, and time and again she proves her superior intellect, while maintaining a humble and meek persona. She recognises that even though she has been promoted, she is still treated as she is everywhere else. And because of her place in society, it creates certain difficulties; difficulties that white people have always taken for granted, such as going to the toilet.
Even something as mundane as this provides a problem for Katherine, and her lengthy absences are soon picked up on. Credit must be given to screenwriters Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi for managing to transform even this small issue into something huge and emotionally poignant. The reason for this poignancy is because we are aware of the racial hubris that is still so damaging to society; of people holding old-fashioned beliefs just because they perceive that they are superior to those whom they deem to be beneath them on the basis that history said it was so.
It is a poignancy that is interwoven throughout all three of the movie’s story strands, and as they unfold, we become aware of a mutual love of country, to the American flag, the American Dream, and everything that is important in regards to American values. USA wants to prove that it is the world leader of all countries, that it is at the forefront of space exploration going forward into the latter half of the twentieth century, and the only way it can do that is if it swallows its views on social standings and allows everyone to contribute.
Above all else, this is where Hidden Figures thrives, as it shows the beautiful side of society that enables people to follow their dreams and, more importantly, to attempt to achieve them. The respective journeys that the three African-American women embark upon, whereby their paths weave in and out of each other like some sort of interconnected cross-stitch of familiarity and mutual companionship of assistance and encouragement demonstrates that not only can people change, but their internalised perceptions of others can also be altered for the better. Hidden Figures might have been untold up to this point in time, but it’s a true story with such relevance in today’s society that it’s one that demands it be revisited over and over until we take in the message it is telling and spread it throughout every portion of society for the rest of time.
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