“Hidden Figures”

  • Indianapolis native Kevin Halloran should be proud of his executive producer status for a film that will be shown for decades in every middle and high school in the country. As an alum of Holy Name Elementary, Cathedral High School and Indiana University, Halloran should be honored for his skill in seeing this film through to such grand completion. ” Inspirational” is the word that best describes these true stories of three Afro-American women who were integral to the success of the our NASA program. Why it took so long for Americans to laud Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson, and Dorothy Vaughn is the question for the ages.

Established in 1958 under President Dwight Eisenhower, NASA was a more civilian than military agency. The gender and racial prejudices of the time are glaringly shown. That three brilliant women dealt in this milieu and accomplished so much is awe-inspiring, the stuff of real heroes, or shall I claim “heroines” ?!  For this film is a reenactment of both the grit and the finesse of feminine brain power.

What joy for three superb actresses to portray the camaraderie,  loyalty and support that would have been needed to balance white privilege and gender debasement.  Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae, and  Taraji Henson look like they are having fun on the moral high ground. We enjoy the zingers, and we relish that positive change is made by three woman who get around steep barriers with savvy gusto.

Knowledge and hard work can move mountains of preconceived notions. Lauding brilliance is cool, too.  Black males are portrayed as perfect models of nurture and respect. This is a film to take your children to before you go to the library.

Director Ted Melvin and screenwriter Allison Schroeder orchestrate a perfect cast. Kevin Costner and Kirsten Dunst are good in their not-so-supporting roles. Both play unaware upper management types, who fall into self-absorbed directives and holding patterns until real genius pivots their expectations. The casual sexism and racism they throw down is a primer for “catch that” lists.  “I have no idea where your bathroom is.” , Dunst intones. ( The colored women’s toilet was one half a mile away , often missing soap, towels, and we surmise , toilet tissue.)

Dunst’s facial expressions are perfect as she jealously monitors John Glenn conversing with Katherine.  As a  favorite comeback line: ” I know you probably believe that.” , Mrs. Vaughn ( Octavia Spencer)  further adjusts the pecking order. Mary Jackson ( Janelle Monae) masterly  uses flattery  and legacy to get a Virginia judge to open the door to her aeronautical engineering degree.

Katherine’s suggestion that the eighteen-century Euler Method be used in NASA’s study of parabolic orbits will have math teachers humming. The fact that black  men are equals in displaying emotional intelligence is an added bonus. They are shown to be caring, supportive and loving in every instance. Mahershala Ali, Aldis Hodge, and Jaiden Kaine are perfect role models for husbandry.

This is a movie that gets just syrupy enough in celebrating over-coming barriers, supporting community, and championing change when it comes to inequality. The fact that all comes from knowledge is a bonus for teachers.

“Why did it take so long for these women to be known? ” is a question for the ages. “Hidden Figures” works metaphorically as a grand title for a grand film.

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Christine Muller

Carrying a torch for film is what I have done for over forty years, thus the flambleau flamed when I was urged to start a blog. Saving suitcase loads of ticket stubs was no longer relevent so I had to change the game. Film has been important for me in the classroom and a respite for me outside of it. No other art form seems to edge the frayed seams of life as neatly as when a film is done well. I am happy that over one-hundred countries have citizens viewing my thoughts on Word Press, and a few leaving their own with me. Over thirteen hundred comments to date, and over three hundred films reviewed.

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