If the Oscar for Best Picture was chosen by the viewing public, there’s little doubt in my mind over who would win. It would be director Theodore Melfi’s “Hidden Figures,” by a landslide. This amazing film has managed to not only capture the attention of the public and the Academy. It has taken three unknown women from the early days of NASA and turned them into superheroes.
That may seem a tad hyperbolic, but I can’t think of a better word to describe these three brilliant women who overcame insurmountable odds to rise far beyond what seemed possible.
Based on the true story of Katherine G. Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) , and Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer), “Hidden Figures,” is about as inspirational as they come this Oscar season.
In the midst of the Cold War Space Race, these three phenomenal women, and countless others, helped their country reach the stars in a field where they were considered to be the wrong color and the wrong gender. Johnson is an integral part of the first manned space missions, including John Glenn’s historic first orbit around the Earth. Jackson wins a legal battle that allows her to take courses to become an engineer. Vaughan makes herself and her entire team of computers indispensable by learning to program and run the new NASA IBM 7090. All impressive in their own rights, and all dealing with the side effects of being black and female in the 1960s America.
With a glossy, polished finish, “Hidden Figures” shows the sharp contrast between the intellectually enlightened minds of NASA and the reality of segregation. Johnson has to deal with discrimination in the form of a 1/4 mile hike to the nearest colored bathroom, a separate coffee maker, and some serious gender bias.
The film lacks the grittiness to delve into the deeper societal divisions, but instead chooses to focus on the accomplishments and perseverance of these women. They know the limitations placed on them by the time and place they live in, but instead of accepting that reality they work to do their jobs and change the world.
Henson, Monáe, and Spencer as these three powerful women are the driving force and life off this film. Without all three performances this movie may have been passed over by audiences and the Academy. Taraji P. Henson as Katherine G. Johnson has a quiet intelligence that drives her character, with just enough sass to power through the hate and indifference. Janelle Monáe as Mary Jackson is one of this Oscar season’s true delights. She plays Ms. Jackson with a tough exterior and a subtle and surprising sweetness. Finally, the three ladies are held together by the amazing Octavia Spencer as Dorothy Vaughan. It’s hard to imagine anyone else giving Vaughan just the right amount of selflessness, spunk and smarts that Spencer imparts.
“Hidden Figures” might well take home the top award this Sunday. It may seem like a longshot, but when it comes to defying odds, this awe inspiring film knows all about that.
…just for fun: