Hidden Figures manages a fine line between worthy award-bait grandstanding and feeling like something truly substantial. Set in the early 1960’s space race it tells the story of three pioneering African American women working for NASA.
The trailer worried me some what, appearing to be a saccharine sickly affair full of speeches from Kevin Costner about how we are all the same in the quest for space. But the film is much more than this. Costner is rightly a supporting character and what stands front and centre are three towering performances showing how these women overcame prejudice.
Taraji P. Henson (Katherine), Octavia Spencer (Dorothy) and Janelle Monae (Mary) are all equally good in a terrific ensemble. Katherine is a human computer using her skills to edge into the white male inner circle, Dorothy has the foresight to see changes coming and make herself invaluable in computer programming and Mary challenges the status quo to allow her to seek out the NASA requirements for an engineer at an all white school.
The film is at its best when showing how prejudice is ingrained into the smallest facet of life and how much harder each of these women have to work to get the tiniest reward. Making yourself a cup of coffee is something to cause disdain. It is all perfectly summed up when in response to a character saying they have nothing against them, Dorothy replies “I know you probably believe that”.
It’s drawbacks, those Costner speeches are still there and it sometimes feels like it’s struggling to pack in these three stories into one film. But these are minor quibbles. Go and see how stunned you should be that these were our attitudes less than sixty years ago.