Hidden Figures

Rated 4.0

Katherine Johnson, one of the most brilliant mathematicians of the last century—and still going at age 98—gets the movie she deserves with Hidden Figures, an entertaining, enlightening and educational look at the contributions of her and her cohorts to NASA and space flight in the late 1950s and after. Johnson was part of a segregated division at NASA in the ’50s, a wing of mathematicians who did the work that actual computers do today. The movie depicts the humiliation she and two other historical African-American figures, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, went through while solving equations that helped put men safely into space and return them to their families. The women had to put up with a lot of racist bullshit on their way to, during and after work, and the film shows their hardships, albeit in PG fashion. There was a stretch where Johnson was making monumental calculations for the likes of Alan Shepard, yet she wasn’t allowed to use bathrooms in her building or drink from the same coffee pot as her white counterparts. Taraji P. Henson plays Johnson, the “smart one” astronaut John Glenn personally demanded check the coordinates before his historical flight launched. Octavia Spencer is her usual great self as Vaughan, doing the work of a supervisor without the title and curious about that new IBM thing they just installed down the hall. Vaughan would become crucial to the implementation of computers at NASA, as well as being the agency’s first African-American supervisor. As Jackson, NASA’s first female African-American aeronautical engineer, singer Janelle Monae is so good, it’s easy to forget that this is just her second movie role. As a composite, fictional character named Al Harrison, Kevin Costner does some of his best acting in years. I had no knowledge of these three women and what they meant to the space race. Learning about them and, consequently, appreciating them, makes this film worthwhile.