Friday, February 3, 2017


Hidden Figures (2016). Dir: Theodore Melfi. Starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe. PG.

When I sat down to see Hidden Figures, the previews included a movie about a little girl math prodigy whose parents are split over how to bring her up. It's fiction and you can tell it's going to be heart-wrenching, a pretty little blonde girl torn between dreamy Chris Evans and tight-lipped Lindsay Duncan. As much as I love Chris Evans and want to marry him,  you know this is a crap premise because if you have a smart little girl you educate her, period.

Which is the ultimate lesson behind Hidden Figures, the true story of some of the African-American women who worked behind the scenes on NASA's space program. It's not 100% accurate historically but it tells an inspiring story in Hollywood fashion.

Taraji P. Henson lights up the screen as Katherine Goble Johnson, a math prodigy who works as a "computer," literally one who computes, part of a group of African-American women working in an isolated calculation pool (like a typing pool but with math?) on the backlot of NASA, a full mile and change away from where the white guys do the work that makes the headlines. She's chosen to join the white guys and the story follows her and two other women, Mary Jackson and Dorothy Vaughan, as they try to rise through the ranks and be recognized and valued for their contributions.

It's a great movie and you will be cheering for these women as they push through all kinds of undignified garbage to be simply treated like human beings. Kirsten Dunst and Kevin Costner play characters who are either helpful or not, Dunst being a particularly galling antagonist and Costner portraying a cloistered, powerful egghead who is nonetheless capable of changing his ways.

But it's the three stars that make this movie shine. Why in the world Henson was not nominated for an Oscar I will never understand. I have been a huge fan of hers since "Empire" started three years ago. Maybe that's not long but she is always wonderful to watch. Octavia Spencer is moving and charismatic as Dorothy Vaughan, who taught herself computer languages so she could keep up with a fast-changing workplace so that she and her team could stay relevant and employed. Janelle Monáe rounds out the trio as tough Mary Jackson, NASA's first African-American female engineer. All three women have a passion for science and learning that makes me sorry I didn't try harder at math.

So you should see Hidden Figures because it tells a great story that we need to know about what all Americans have to offer and the importance of treating every human being like a human being. It will leave you tearing up and cheering for them and everyone who's struggled to prove their worth.

And while you're at it, read the book with the same title and get more of the story.

Rating: RUSH