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This will be my last review for the year 2016.
Hidden Figures, the inspired by true events film written by Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi, who also directed, based on a book by Margot Lee Shetterly, is about a group of black female mathematicians who played a large role in the US space program, especially getting John Glenn into space and around the earth a few times.
It is sincere, worthy, uplifting, informative and a real crowd pleaser.
But is it any good?
Well, I’m afraid if truth be told, not particularly.
And that is because it is also formulaic, on the nose, paint by number and without a whiff of subtlety. In fact, it is all these things to such a degree, that it becomes a true story in which almost nothing on screen feels believable or realistic.
Actually, there is one scene that felt as if it happened the way it did. Before Glenn blasted off, there were some issues with the trajectory. He told them to get that smart girl (one Katherine Johnson) and have her verify everything. If she said it was a go, then he would take off.
The reason it felt so real is that I just couldn’t imagine someone making something like this up.
The acting is fine. The three women are played by Taraji P. Henson (Johnson), Octavia Spencer (Dorothy Vaughn) and Janelle Monae (Mary Jackson). Henson has one transcendent moment where she lets out all her anger at the ways she’s been treated by her peers. It’s a wonderfully lethargic moment.
At the same time most of her encounters with racism were fictionalized here. Johnson said she never felt the segregation because everyone was too busy doing their job. The incident with the trash can, as well as Jim Parsons’ character, is totally fictionalized (Kevin Costner’s supervisor role was a composite of different characters).
The incident with not being able to find a segregated bathroom didn’t happen to her. Since she didn’t know the bathrooms were segregated, she used the one closest to her, for whites only. Two years later she was informed of her error, but she just kept using the whites only bathroom.
For those of you wondering how a group of black, female mathematicians even came to work at NASA, in 1935, five women were hired to be part of a computer pool. When Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, more women were hired to replace the men. Then Franklin Roosevelt issued an order banning discrimination in government hiring. However, women were paid less and the black workers were segregated.