HIDDEN FIGURES (PG)
Hidden Figures Surfaces Strong
"Hidden Figures" revolves around the extraordinary black women who were integral to NASA putting a man in space during the 1960's. Cast your mind back to an era when the emerging space program was newly funded by the government and running "experimental" missions designed to see if earth orbit was a possibility. Concurrent with that was the dark days of the Cold War between the U.S. and the former U.S.S.R, who were competing for first place in space and galactic supremacy.
It was the days before desktop computing, cell phones or most of the tech so readily available today. So, as NASA advanced towards their space goals, skilled men and women were hired by the thousands under federal orders to get a man in space first. Among the program's many employees was a black, all female department of skilled mathematicians who labored behind the scenes doing the grunt work. When the head of NASA sought for someone to verify his lead department's calculations, Katherine Johnson was appointed for the task.
Katherine the "human computer," was reassigned to the top secret Flight Research Division at Langley. She was an immediate direct threat to the entrenched mentality of segregation and emasculation of blacks still prevalent in much of the South. But, before long, Katherine proved herself to be a superior mathematician and a major contributor, meeting each challenge with out-of-the-box thinking. Tariji P. Henson gave a subtle, yet determined portrayal of a brilliant woman handling peer suppression and injustice with a quiet dignity and spirit.
Henson was joined by Octavia Spencer (The Help), as the "supervisor" of the black women's division, leading the charge as a steady force of support for her gals and always on the look-out for their best interests. Recording Artist Janelle Monae turned in a good performance as the feisty, ambitious third member of the trio with a propensity for speaking her mind.
The three woman connected around their unique positions at NASA, the difficulties of being more brilliant than their husbands and enduring the adversities of living in the South. Henson, Spencer and Monae were a comfortable fit as the fearsome threesome rolling up their sleeves and taking on challenges with fortitude and foresight. Kevin Costner (Draft Day) played Al Harrison, the head of NASA, and Kirsten Dunst, (Spiderman) rounded out the cast as the patronizing supervisor.
There is a saying that goes, "If opportunity does not knock, build a door." These women personified that sentiment by not allowing any obstacles to deter them. They forged their own paths through hard work and a vision for a better tomorrow. Each woman succeeded in her area by becoming the first black female engineer, first black female supervisor and the first woman admitted into the all male research program.
The film was based on a book of the same title by Margot Lee Shetterly who's father worked at NASA and would often reminisce to her as a child about the "human computers" who worked behind the scenes. Over time Margot recognized the immensity of their accomplishments and impact on the space program, and she knew their stories had to be told.
It is 55 years since the days of the story's crescendo. Sometimes, I look at race relations in our nation, that remains a dichotomy of mistrust and unrest, and feel as though our progress has been too small. But then I see a film like Hidden Figures featuring true-to-life people who became instruments of social change simply by aspiring to excellence in their fields and a refusal to allow prejudices to dictate their destinies. "Hidden Figures" reminds me that through hard work, perseverance and believing in our dreams, we can all aspire to change the world one job, one attitude and one person at a time.
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