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“Hidden Figures No More”

Historical feature movie reveals the truth behind NASA's space program

From+left%3A+director+Theodore+Melfi%2C+producer+Mimi+Vald%C3%A9s%2C++American+singer-songwriter+Pharrell+Williams%2C+American+actor%2C+film+director%2C+and+producer+Kevin+Costner%2C+American+musical+recording+artist%2C+actress%2C+and+model+Janelle+Mon%C3%A1e%2C+American+actress+Octavia+Spencer%2C+and+American+actress+and+singer+Taraji+P.+Henson%2C+are+seen+on+stage+prior+to+a+screening+of+the+film+%E2%80%9CHidden+Figures%E2%80%9D+at+the+Smithsonian%E2%80%99s+National+Museum+of+African+American+History+and+Culture%2C+Wednesday%2C+Dec.+14%2C+2016+in+Washington+DC.+
From left: director Theodore Melfi, producer Mimi Valdés,  American singer-songwriter Pharrell Williams, American actor, film director, and producer Kevin Costner, American musical recording artist, actress, and model Janelle Monáe, American actress Octavia Spencer, and American actress and singer Taraji P. Henson, are seen on stage prior to a screening of the film “Hidden Figures” at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2016 in Washington DC.

From left: director Theodore Melfi, producer Mimi Valdés, American singer-songwriter Pharrell Williams, American actor, film director, and producer Kevin Costner, American musical recording artist, actress, and model Janelle Monáe, American actress Octavia Spencer, and American actress and singer Taraji P. Henson, are seen on stage prior to a screening of the film “Hidden Figures” at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2016 in Washington DC.

Public Domain (NASA/Joel Kowsky)

Public Domain (NASA/Joel Kowsky)

From left: director Theodore Melfi, producer Mimi Valdés, American singer-songwriter Pharrell Williams, American actor, film director, and producer Kevin Costner, American musical recording artist, actress, and model Janelle Monáe, American actress Octavia Spencer, and American actress and singer Taraji P. Henson, are seen on stage prior to a screening of the film “Hidden Figures” at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2016 in Washington DC.

Jack Larkin, Senior Writer

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Hidden Figures uncovers the three revolutionary mathematicians behind one of the United State’s most momentous accomplishments through smart characters and witty storytelling.

The achievement of John Glenn and NASA is no secret to the American people, but racialsegregation in the early 1960’s concealed part of the real team behind the successful earth orbit. Directed by Theodore Melfi and based on the non-fiction book of the same title by Margot Lee Shetterley, Hidden Figures portrays three African-American Women and their vital role as mathematicians at NASA.

The movie balances its focus between the story of quirky genius Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), similarly intelligent Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer), and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe). The film follows the three through their lives together at both work and at home to encapsulate the pressures of a white-male dominated job and its effects on the women in their personal lives. An intense balancing act is required to perform the job well. The movie goes further to display the effects of segregation in the office.

Discrimination due to both race and gender against the women at work, home, and school, is glaringly apparent throughout the film. The women worked on the other side of the campus in “colored computer” sections. No “colored” bathrooms were in the main campus when Johnson was reassigned to the space program, so she ran a mile and a half to the colored building. In another scene, Mary Jackson fights in court for her right to take engineering classes, usually reserved for white men. The topic is heavy, but the mood kept light through Hans Zimmer, Pharrell Williams, and Benjamin Walfisch’s music score and the use of irony. Johnson, Vaughan, and Jackson’s triumphs are emphasized. With such a compelling story, the entire theater was with Johnson, Vaughan, and Jackson: crying with their defeats, laughing with their witty ironies, and cheering with their victories.

Taraji P. Henson’s portrayal of Katherine Johnson is inspiring, quirky and invigorating. A cast of stars play the characters beautifully: Octavia Spencer, known for her Oscar-winning performance in The Help, Emmy Award-winning actor Jim Parsons of The Big Bang Theory, singer and actress Janelle Monáe, and Oscar-winning director and actor Kevin Costner.

The three computers, hired to solve equations for engineers and others at NASA, did not come across as stereotypical geniuses. Refreshingly, the women used their talents for their community. In that way it is not a character study of any of the three women, but rather describing the character relative to the entire community. This strategy of character development left some moviegoers with the sense that they never really connected with the three women.

Hidden Figures makes you think about how many other stories have been covered up in our nation’s past. It is a testament to how we remember our history, and how much we collectively seem to forget. It wasn’t until over 20 years after Johnson, Vaughan, and Jackson retired from NASA that their story was told through Shetterley’s book. None of the women received due credit in the midst of bureaucracy in the space program; Johnson and her colleagues became buried in the names of supervisors and command structures above them. Perhaps more have been forgotten due to our tendency to choose one name to represent an achievement. Nonetheless, Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson finally received the recognition they rightfully deserved.

The movie is bright and uplifting despite the heavy topic. The focus is on the triumphs of these incredible women, and the light tone and equally happy music make the subject accessible. Smart, witty, and likable characters and a compelling storyline leave little to complain about in this piece of history.

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“Hidden Figures No More”