For the full Movie Bears Podcast review of ‘Hidden Figures,’ check out the video below. Or read on for our mini-review!
It is an unfortunate fact that few people (prior to this year) knew about the accomplishments for Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson, a trio of African-American women who worked in mathematical and scientific positions for NASA during the Space Race. Thanks to ‘Hidden Figures,’ the story of these important women and their contributions to getting the first American in space is finally being told.
Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monae take center stage in ‘Hidden Figures,’ and it is their indelible talents which help bring Johnson, Vaughan, and Jackson to life. Make no mistake; these actresses turn in an absolutely gripping and sincere set of performances. Henson carries the bulk of the dramatic weight on her shoulders as the story focuses primarily on her storyline. She plays the role with a quiet dignity in the face of racial oppression, building to a crescendo with an unforgettable monologue. Mahershala Ali, who had an amazing year between this film, ‘House of Cards,’ ‘Luke Cage,’ and of course, ‘Moonlight,’ also steps up to the plate with a sensitive yet strong performance as Katherine Johnson’s suitor.
Unfortunately, ‘Hidden Figures’ has a rather serious tone problem. The film sugarcoats the discrimination that the women experiences; sure, it is present, but the delivery is glossy and soft. As the women overcome the racism in their lives, their triumphs feel muted because their obstacles feel way more trivial than they were in real life. Case in point: throughout the film, Katherine Johnson (Henson) is surrounded by buttoned-down, clean cut white men who ostensibly don’t appreciate her presence on their team. This really only comes across in the form of a coffee pitcher labeled ‘Colored’ and a laughably bad villainous performance by Jim Parsons.
At its core, ‘Hidden Figures’ is a crowd pleaser, the type of film that most audiences are going to stand up and cheer for as the closing credits roll. The women whose lives this film is based on deserve this kind of applause. In many ways, we just wish that the film that elicited it was ‘great’ instead of merely ‘good.’
Written by William Lindus, Movie Bears Podcast