films, Science and Technology

‘Hidden Figures’: Film Review

I don’t watch a lot of “based on a true story” movies. In fact, most of the movies I watch are firmly rooted in sci-fi, fantasy and comic books. They couldn’t be any further from true. And it’s even rarer that I’ll really love a movie that doesn’t fall into these categories. But I’d heard great things about Hidden Figures, and as a woman in science and technology myself, I felt like this was a film I couldn’t miss.

“As the United States raced against Russia to put a man in space, NASA found untapped talent in a group of African-American female mathematicians that served as the brains behind one of the greatest operations in U.S. history. Based on the unbelievably true life stories of three of these women, known as “human computers”, we follow these women as they quickly rose the ranks of NASA alongside many of history’s greatest minds specifically tasked with calculating the momentous launch of astronaut John Glenn into orbit, and guaranteeing his safe return. Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, and Katherine Johnson crossed all gender, race, and professional lines while their brilliance and desire to dream big, beyond anything ever accomplished before by the human race, firmly cemented them in U.S. history as true American heroes.”

– Plot summary by 20th Century Fox

Really, the plot summary doesn’t do this film justice. It’s rare that this kind of film will really excite me, but Hidden Figures was definitely an exception. The story was moving and inspiring, the acting was fantastic, and most surprisingly for a film of its genre, it kept me interested throughout.

In a way, Hidden Figures reminded me of The Imitation Game, one of the few films of its genre that I’ve really loved. Hidden Figures had a similar feel, in the sense that it dramatised a true story about both science, and the people who went against the odds to make it happen. But in a lot of ways, this film was also very different to The Imitation Game, and really, comparisons should stop there, because Hidden Figures is a fantastic and unique film in its own right.

As a science nerd, this film excited me: while I can rarely understand the complex calculations behind it, I love hearing about the amazing things science and technology have helped us to achieve. I get excited when I see a piece of technology I recognise, and I love watching that “eureka” moment (I like to think I can pick up some second-hand genius if I watch enough people scrawl equations across a chalkboard). There were plenty of moments in this film that got me excited about science, but at the same time, the film wasn’t science-heavy. It didn’t need viewers to have an interest in science, because it was much more than that.

More than anything, this film was about Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson and Katherine Johnson, three women who were instrumental in a milestone achievement of science and space travel, and yet until this film’s release, who I had never heard of. Seeing the kind of obstacles they faced, juxtaposed alongside the incredible work they did inspired a range of emotions in me: I felt angry at the injustice of it, then exasperated that their white male colleagues either didn’t see that anything was wrong or didn’t seem to care, then filled with admiration when these women excelled anyway.

Despite the heavy subject matter of racism, sexism and discrimination, this film had a feelgood atmosphere. It was uplifting and inspiring, with comedic elements and a fun soundtrack. It was a story of triumph. Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae and Taraji P. Henson did an excellent job at portraying Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson and Katherine Johnson, and its easy to see why they’ve received the praise they have. These were also very likeable and watchable characters, who inspired me to root for them throughout. Another thing that struck me when watching this film is that the costume department did a great job. While I don’t have a particular interest in fashion, I loved the dresses worn by Taraji P. Henson’s Katherine Johnson.

Simply put, this film was brilliant. I never felt bored, and I left the cinema feeling uplifted and inspired. I would highly recommend it to anyone and everyone, whether you have an interest in space, mathematics, technology, or none of these things. I haven’t seen many films this year, but this was my favourite so far, and I get the feeling it will be hard to beat.

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