Hidden Figures succeeds in taking a little-known story about three crusading women, fighting for feminism and civil rights in segregated Virginia, and putting an entertaining and light-hearted spin on it. Like Hacksaw Ridge recently, this is a story about forgotten or unknown heroes, truly worthy of wider recognition.
Taraji P Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe star as our boffins, all working together at NASA and struggling to get the recognition they deserve. We see Hensons character Katherine Johnson briefly as a young child, showing her as a gifted mathematician. Now at NASA she works as a “computer”, responsible for crunching the numbers needed in order to send their astronauts into space and at a time when the US were desperately trying to outdo Russia with their space program. Spencer is Dorothy Vaughan, working as a supervisor for a team at NASA but not getting the title or the pay packet to match and having to deal with a thoroughly unpleasant Kirsten Dunst too. Monáe is Mary Jackson, desperate to become the first female black engineer and finding herself having to lobby a judge to allow her to take night classes at a segregated school.
All three women have to fight for justice and recognition despite the awful treatment they receive for being both female and ‘coloured’. Johnson has to deal with sneers, comments and unwelcoming body language from her co-workers and the introduction of a coffee machine for her labelled with the word ‘coloured’. She also has a 40 minute round trip to use the coloured bathroom located in another area of NASA. It’s a tough battle but she puts in the hours and pushes herself forward for meetings she is usually excluded from, making her ideas known and eventually being recognised by boss Kevin Costner for the talented woman she truly is. Meanwhile Vaughan realises that the introduction of the new IBM mainframe is likely to put her and her teams jobs in jeopardy, so while the mainframe sits idle in a big room (the other male boffins don’t seem to be able to work out what to do with it!), she sets about learning how to program it – eventually landing her and her team the roles they deserve. Jackson also convinces the judge to initiate groundbreaking change and gets her wish to study to become an engineer.
Along the way there is a romantic sub-plot involving Katherine Johnson, not to mention the interesting main story of getting an American astronaut successfully orbiting and returning to Earth. A brilliantly executed, thought provoking and inspiring movie, entertaining and worthy of award nominations.