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Hidden Figures: Electric Ladies
By Alex Carrigan
*Editor's Note: This article is part of a review series by Alex Carrigan from February 14-24. To learn about the series, visit this post.
Yesterday had me feeling pretty glum. Manchester by the Sea left me feeling drained and hollow due to its slow plot and obnoxious dialogue. Today's movie was one I've had hyped over the last few weeks, from people close to me telling me they wanted me to see it, to the awards circuit giving it a lot of praise, to media groups criticizing it being snubbed in certain areas. I finally got to see Hidden Figures, and now I can finally address the film I'm sure was the one I was most looking forward to.
In short, I really needed this movie.
Hidden Figures is based on the true story of three black women working at NASA in the early 1960's and their contributions to John Glenn's orbit of the Earth in 1962. Katherine G. Johnson (Taraji P. Henson) is tasked to help come up with the math to ensure Col. Glenn can launch and land safely. Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer) looks to learn the language of the new IBM computers to ensure she and the other black women employed at NASA will continue to have jobs as they move into the digital age. Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae) is an engineer who longs to further her education to pursue new opportunities within NASA. All three deal with issues of segregation and discrimination within NASA and in their personal lives, and the film follows them as they work within the system to ensure the flight goes successfully and prove they have a place within the program.
I recently moved to Prince George's County in Maryland, a predominately black community in southern Maryland near Washington D.C. I managed to see this film in theaters, and it was probably for the best that I did. Last year's Oscars were tainted by the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, which for the most part was quite true. This year, we had more films starring people of color and stories about the POC experience. I'll be addressing more films like that later in the series, but Hidden Figures was the first time I got to really gauge an audience reaction to the Oscar pool and see how it tied with the demographics of the films nominated.
What I saw was an audience that was very engaged in this movie. This was an audience that was vocal about how much they cared for the heroines and their journeys, usually through cheers and applause every time any of them got the leg up in a situation. They encouraged Katherine as she had to prove her calculations to a room full of older white men. There was even a little girl dancing to the song that played during the end credits.
This told me why people were reacting so much to this film and why it was getting so much buzz: it's just a really damn good movie. It's a story that needed to be told (hence the title) and it's very appropriately released. We're in a time that's calling for more representation and roles for persons of color, and this film offered plenty of that. Hidden Figures probably has one of the strongest ensembles in this year's nominee pool, and that works for the film and for its legacy.
This is also probably the first film where I'm upset by one of the snubs. Henson wasn't nominated for her role, which I thought was a shame because she really carried the film. Spencer deserves her nomination, and Monae should have gotten a nod as well, but Henson being ignored in favor of another Meryl Streep nomination bothers me. It's much different than a lot of roles she has played in the past, and I think the character she played is one for young women to aspire to be, so some recognition for the performance would be useful.
I think Hidden Figures has a pretty good chance at this year's ceremony. La La Land may be a lock to win, but I think Hidden Figures would be the people's choice. Of the films nominated, it has probably the largest appeal to the general viewership, and it's a film I can see resonating with a lot of viewers in years to come. I don't really know what it could win out of its three nominations (it seriously needed more), but I'm really glad I saw this movie, and I know a lot of other viewers will be glad they saw it as well. If it can help guide more young girls into mathematics, sciences, and engineering fields, I think it will be a worthy film to watch in the years to come.
Tomorrow: I watch Hacksaw Ridge, and see if my issues with war films come into play here.