In a time when race has once again been brought to our attention in light of certain political events, social media outbursts and controversial laws and justice systems, this film reminds us how far we have come in over 50 years and why it is important to keep going to knock down racial walls and unite humanity, regardless of the colour of your skin.
‘Hidden Figures’ does two things. It tackles a very important piece of American history and lets us see the criminally unknown faces behind it, and it also tackles racism. Two strong subjects but two subjects that blend together in a turbulent time to show, in true feel-good fashion, the benefit of starting to knock down those walls that prevent so much progression.
Thankfully, one of the key factors to bringing this story to life and telling it on the big screen is the choice to make it family friendly. That means audiences of all ages can learn about the NASA space race and racial tension in the 60s, but also allows our three relatively unknown faces – our hidden figures – to be given the much overdue mass recognition they deserve. With no sex, violence or swearing, this is a warm story that delivers hard-hitting messages through stellar acting and a tense narrative with a strong underline of hope.
Our three leading ladies are wonderful together, a real sense of unity, warmth and friendship. While Henson is our “main” focus working in the hub of the NASA programme, Spencer and Monáe are just as important supporting her with their own struggles. Each lady gets their moment to shake up the system and because of their genuine passion for their work, friendship and dreams, you will them to succeed and you care about them. I walked out feeling honoured to have been introduced to the women.
The supporting cast provide the racial tension, some good and some bad. Kevin Costner is on top form again as Director Al Harrison, chewing gum and working late to propel America into the stars. He is also the one who is surrounded by the racial divide but doesn’t buy into it, acting as the girls, and audiences, buffer to situations that otherwise would be hard to watch. He challenges the system in pursuit of one thing – working successfully together.
Jim Parsons, Kirsten Dunst and Mahershala Ali also play their part in the divide, from colleagues forced to find fault in everything due to skin colour, to serving officers in the military who know a good thing when they see one and hold onto it. This gives the film plenty of confrontation and hurdles to jump to reach the finish line, but also gives plenty of warmth and humanity in equal measure.
Because of a strong cast and gentle drama, it doesn’t need to resort to over-the-top racism or violence/swearing stemming from it. We know it’s there, and we see and hear enough to remember it. From kettles and toilets branded for coloured use only, to segregated busses and court rooms, it is subtle but shocking still to see how we lived not too long ago.
And, of course, don’t forget with this we have a space race to win. Plenty of scientific mumbo-jumbo is thrown your way – don’t fight it, just roll with it and enjoy the process – as we follow the nail-biting attempts of our characters to send a man to space and bring him home safely. Seeing what went on behind the scenes and the back-breaking work put into such a monumental operation is exciting and interesting to watch play out. Some of the technical jargon and physics used can affect your attention when it gets a bit heavy, but stay with it. It’s there to tell an authentic story.
Zipping along at just over 2hrs, this is a wonderfully feel-good slice of American history we all need to be aware of and understand. With strong performances, a great story and an authentic 60s feel from clothing to cars and sets and soundtrack (bar the off-putting pop soundtrack by Pharrell Williams), this deserves to be seen by all if only to put the faces to the three ladies names who shaped the course of American history and the space programme forever.