Hidden Figures was nominated for Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress for Octavia Spencer, and Best Adapted Screenplay at this year’s Academy Awards. Based on real events, and real African-American women, the film chronicles their work at NASA when the push to get a man into space was a priority.
It was 1961, and a number of African-American women were employed at Langley as mathematicians. Remember this was pre-computer era; in fact, IBM was just delivering the first computer system to NASA at this time.
The Russians were the first to get a man as well as that little dog into space, and the U. S. needed to follow suit promptly. This was the Cold War, and the fear of Russian missiles aimed down on America from space was a very real fear.
Al Harrison (Kevin Costner) is the chief of the program, supervising a team of white males until math genius Katherine Johnson (Taraji Henson) comes on board. Her two closest friends also work at NASA, Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer), and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae). Civil rights for blacks in America is in the forefront, and the struggle does not omit the women who work in a predominantly while male world in the space program.
The chipping away at prejudice and degrading practices is depicted for all the women, and it’s really a mutual enlightening for the management and coworkers of the women. I’m not going to go into detail on this because you need to see it happening for yourself in this film.
The other thing I found fascinating was these scientists and mathematicians put John Glenn (Glen Powell) into orbit around the earth without computers! All using calculating machines, pencils and paper, huge equations that certainly did not make sense to me on gigantic chalkboards. The extent to which they persevered and made it work is incredible.
Dorothy and Mary take their careers into their own hands and strive to further educate themselves. These women are shining examples for all little girls to see, so they too can believe in themselves and not ever give up.
They were not unlike most women today who have to juggle work and children either. Added in is the discrimination that was rampant and waiting to be torn down.
The film is rated PG for thematic elements and some language. The costume design and settings were authentically crafted. I loved seeing all those rows of now vintage automobiles in the Langley parking lot, and the clothing the women wore was a blast from the past. Skirts and heels, and the men all wore suits. Sometimes I really long for those days when even to go to the grocery store, people dressed like they deserved respect.
It is sad that discrimination and prejudice are still undercurrents of American society. Although some things have changed, there is much still to be done. This film and others like it brings to awareness the inestimable contributions of those women of color that until now have been Hidden Figures.