Hidden Figures, as reviewed by Amy Kellestine

Hidden Figures is a delight from beginning to end. I just got home from watching it in a packed theatre on a Friday night (which ended with the viewers applauding, myself included) and I can barely type out my praises fast enough.

The ‘based on a true story’ movie features three African-American women who were ‘computers’ for NASA during the great race to space era. Before IBM mainframes, PCs, and iPads, there were humans sitting in rooms with pencils and papers cranking out calculation after calculation to determine how to get men safely into space and back again.

The three stars of the show, Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson, are brought to life by Taraji P Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monae, respectively. Each woman has her unique wit and charm and they are united as friends and colleagues as they challenge the status quos of the time related to both race and gender.

Hidden Figures tells a very important story of the obstacles repeatedly placed between these women and their dreams. Each of them must overcome both overt racism and sexism and more subversive situations as well. They withstood the emotional abuse of segregation and a plethora of physical barriers in order to perform the calculations that NASA so desperately needed from them. For example, Katherine has to run across the NASA campus for over a mile (each way) to access the nearest ‘colored restroom’ and repeatedly gets into trouble for taking suspiciously long breaks. Dorothy isn’t able to find a book about computer programming in the colored section of the library and gets kicked out of the building when she finds herself searching for the book in the whites-only section. Mary has to get a court order to attend night classes at a local whites-only school, because it is the only one that offers the advanced coursework she requires to be accepted into the NASA engineering program. Not to mention that each of these ladies have children and also bear the burden of guilt associated with being a working mom.

This movie had me (and the rest of the audience) laughing throughout, there were a number of wonderfully clever lines delivered. The supporting cast was excellent and included Mahershala Ali, Aldis Hodge, Kirsten Dunst, Kevin Costner, and Jim Parsons… and it was uplifting to see how the attitudes toward the ‘colored computers’ evolved throughout the film as they proved themselves time and time again. There is a moving part in the movie where Kevin Costner’s bigwig NASA character, Al Harrison, takes a stand and literally dismantles a ridiculous segregation practice at NASA – with a crowbar. Plus, it’s even more touching because his character isn’t really focused on the latent social biases occurring within the workplace. Films like this are an important reminder of historical injustices that could be too easily forgotten.

Although this movie deals with some heavy hitting themes like prejudice and overt racism, it is surprisingly uplifting. The story of these ‘hidden figures’ is so powerful, in the way that they prevailed over hardship and shared their talents amid adversity. It is even more beautiful that Katherine Johnston, the main ‘computer’, who comes up with the go/no-go math that saves astronaut John Glenn, is receiving praise for her contributions at 98 years old. Overall, this movie makes you feel good, it also makes you think. What are your dreams? And what obstacles would you fight to overcome in order to achieve them?

Amy Kellestine headshotAmy Kellestine is an educator, engineer, Arati life coach and entrepreneur living in Edmonton, Alberta. She spends her free time camping, gardening, and volunteering for causes such as Cystic Fibrosis and nature conservation. She is a devoted mother, who is passionate about helping others and writing.