Hidden Figures (2017) (PG) (127 Minutes)

Movie Review by Bill Ritchie:

I agree with Roger Ebert. “This is one of the best films of the year.” Could it be? Is it possible? Now in the year 2017 with our pension for sex, violence and special effects that you could leave a PG rated movie with no lewd sex scenes, no profanity (that I remember), a great plot, good actors and actresses, heartwarming romantic scenes of families (what a novel concept) and say, “that was a great movie”. Wow!!

The plot, set in the late 50’s and early 60’s , revolves around three women mathematicians on their way to NASA in Hampton, Virginia to work as computers. This was before the word computer referred to a hand held device. IBM was just entering the “computer age” and all the initial calculations had to be done by a real person. In the case of the film, the computers were African American women, segregated from the “white” population, if you can imagine that, including their eating facilities, bathrooms and pay scale. It was nostalgic for me, who grew up in that era of southern history, in particular Virginia, a state that did not accept the Federal mandate set out in Brown vs. Board of Education, which stated that segregation was unconstitutional in our school systems and led to other decisions that made segregation unlawful anywhere.

There was a trio of black actresses in the leading roles. Taraji Henson played Katherine Johnson who worked for Al Harrison (played by Kevin Costner), director of NASA’s Space Task Group of engineer/mathematicians charged with the calculations of space travel and rocket reentry. This was NASA’s agency in competition with the Russians who were the first to put a satellite in space. In her role as Katherine, not only was she humiliated by being the only woman in the room of 20 white men (they all had white collars too) but she was African-American or Colored (the term in the south for Negro prior to the 70’s). They made sure she knew her place by labeling a small coffee pot in their break-room “Colored”. Ironically she was sent in to double check the math work of the other men, notably her immediate supervisor Paul Stafford (played by Jim Parsons of Big Bang Theory fame). She did such a great job that they relied on her numbers for the original John Glenn launch into orbit. She exemplified a wonderful, tender and rewarding relationship with a man (Mahershala Ali) without jumping into the sack on the first date, a characteristic of most media presentations of dating and a very romantic proposal of marriage which is also missing in today’s culture. The highlight of the movie for me came when Kevin Costner found out that her 40 minute coffee breaks were devoted to running back and forth to the bathroom a half mile away in the “colored” sector of the Hampton, Virginia government location because there were no “colored” bathrooms in the building. He promptly brought a sledge hammer to the “Colored Womens Restroom” sign and said, “We all pee the same color” which may have been the reason for the PG rating.

You may remember Octavia Spencer from her Oscar in The Help. In Hidden Figures she played Dorothy Vaughn, the supervisor of an all-black female computers group in a separate building. They had to be segregated from the “white” workers although they did all the calculations by hand w/ adding machines (you know, the ones you crank) for the white engineers. Her supervisor, Vivian Michael played by Kirsten Dunst, typified the attitude and chasm that existed between the “colored” working class and the white working class. On her own, Dorothy learned about the new IBM computers and eventually taught her “white” IBM representatives how the machines worked. Try as it may, the white community could not hide the black contribution to the space program. All three actresses were born after the 60’s but in their roles as mothers, workers and obedient servants, not in the domestic sense, they were shining examples of working to one’s potential not caring who gets the credit for success.
Finally Janelle Monáe, playing Mary Jackson brought another working mother into focus. The man of the house was also a real man (Aldis Hodge), not a mouse, who had differences with his spouse, but worked them out because he respected her and her position. She is better known for her voice than for dozens of movies, as is the case with Octavia and Taraji, but watch out since her success in Hidden Figures will place her on many a directors list.

For family values, work ethic, wholesome marriages and historical portrayal of how things used to be, Hidden Figures is a hit and won’t be hidden for long. Thanks and enjoy the movie.

(C) 2017 by Bill Ritchie, All rights reserved. (billyjimritchie@yahoo.com)
(Printed here by permission from Bill Ritchie.)

  There is some bad language in the movie but only 1 serious taking the name of Jesus Christ in vain by Kevin Costner. No bad sex or bad violence. For a complete review in this regard see the Dove Foundation review at:

 Oscar Nomination for Best Movie
 Oscar Nomination for Best Adapted Screen Play
 Oscar Nomination for Octavia Spencer for Best Actress
 Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a cast in a Motion Picture
 Top 10 Films for 2016 by National Board of Review
 From the DVD jacket:

Hidden Figures tells the incredible untold story of Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae) - brillant African-American women working at NASA who served as the brains behind the launch into orbit of astronaut John Glenn, a stunning achievement that turned around the Space Race. The visionary trio crossed all gender and racial line and inspired generations.

"One of the year's MOST INSPIRING stories." Pete Hammond, DEADLINE