Once the involuntarily tug of my smile finally left my face, I had one thought as soon as I left the theater after viewing Hidden Figures, “Wow, I wish that knowledge wasn’t so hidden.” More than anything, I felt joy: the joy of seeing Black women in such pivotal positions in history (especially in an area that was — and is — so underrepresented for Black people and women: STEM – Science Technology Engineering & Mathematics) and the joy of seeing so many Black children ingesting it all with their bright, wide eyes.
Hidden Figures is the quintessential “feel-good film,” you can’t help but feel the swell of joyful butterflies in your stomach as the credits roll, that lift you into blissful eternity. Even for the greatest of cynics — especially in today’s climate — it was sort of a great escape. To be honest, I have the performances (and sheer chemistry) of Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer & Janelle Monáe to thank for that. The strength of their sisterhood essentially carried this film, and injected the buoyant spirit into every frame.
Hidden Figures — based on the Margot Lee Shetterley nonfiction book by the same name — tells the story of Katherine G. Johnson (Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Monáe) who served as key Black mathematicians at NASA whose work contributed to the Project Mercury flight trajectories and other missions. Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst, Jim Parsons, Glen Powell, and Mahershala Ali also appear in supporting roles.
Though the sisterhood lifted the film, Taraji’s Katherine was the foundation of the film. This was Taraji’s film. From the meek mathematician who pushed up her glasses against the bridge of the nurse to the frustratingly emotional woman who had spent weeks on-end running back and forth to the “Colored” bathrooms and reached her wit’s end in racial tensions, Taraji’s range was impeccable. Still, even as Taraji ultimately snatched my heart, I thoroughly enjoyed the fact that Octavia’s Dorothy and Janelle’s Mary were given real depth to their characters. Each of these three women were clearly different and easy to connect to in their own way.
The “feel good” nature of the film is likely successful because it relies on clichés, but somehow they don’t punch in the same bothersome way as usual. Perhaps it’s because, while it’s able to touch our emotional core, it’s not really heavy handed. Maybe in today’s climate, I needed this type of movie more than ever. Maybe it’s timely, more than anything.
Regardless of the reasoning, I’m glad Hidden Figures decided to peek out of its hiding spot and continues to soar.