The real life events surrounding Hidden Figures deserve to be told, and it’s wonderful that the resultant film was of such high quality that it reached audiences which it otherwise might not. It’s important to show that even before society became increasingly more integrated throughout the latter half of the 20th century, with respect to both race and gender, that pioneers were blazing trails. The women depicted in Hidden Figures are examples of individuals whose talents and superior intellect overcame barriers to help with the advancement in the field of space travel, exploration, and computer science.
They weren’t just fighting “the system”, “the establishment”, or cultural biases so that the racial and gender-based roadblocks could be overcome such that future generations would have the opportunity to study those fields and perhaps someday become major contributors to advancements. They accomplished that by showing, despite extant forces at work against them based on their gender and the color of their skin, that they already had sufficient skills, intellect, abilities and knowledge to not only work within a workforce predominantly comprised of white men, but in many cases far exceed them in terms of capability.
The reputation of Taraji P Henson preceded her, and so, although I don’t watch EMPIRE, I knew she was capable of giving a strong performance. There were a couple of meaty scenes where she certainly shined, though the script didn’t give her much else with which to work. While I would be surprised if they taught her all of the math she was discussing and writing on chalkboards, it came across as if she knew what she was doing (although my math and science studies fell a few years short of understanding it myself, so I wouldn’t know any better).
Having seen Octavia Spencer in THE HELP, among other things, I was fully prepared to enjoy her work here. And then the script gives Spencer less to work with than Henson. I’m not sure Spencer’s role was deserving of its Supporting Actress nomination, but that’s based simply on the fact that there wasn’t nearly as much asked of her as there was of the characters portrayed by Viola Davis in FENCES, Michelle Williams in MANCHESTER BY THE SEA, or Naomie Harris in MOONLIGHT. It was interesting to see, however, that NASA’s space program has a significant amount of thanks due to a server room having very little security, and a public library in rural Virginia in the 1960s having a book on programming despite computers being so scarce that even NASA wasn’t really using it. I’ll be interested to hear how much of that was factual.
The name Janelle Monae wasn’t one with which I was familiar before Hidden Figures, the role didn’t provide enough meat to force people to stand up and take notice going forward. We got glimpses of the fact that she would probably shine if given enough content, but there simply wasn’t enough content surrounding this character to result in anything praise-worthy.
Overall, Hidden Figures was an informative movie, telling of an important part of history, but it was lacking. Better dialogue could’ve helped earn Taraji P Henson a Best Actress nomination. Better conflict might’ve helped win Octavia Spencer the award for Supporting Actress. The screenplay might’ve been nominated for an Oscar, but that was for adapting the eponymous book into a script, fitting the contents into a typical Hollywood movie run-time. Had someone with the abilities of Aaron Sorkin been involved, it might have resulted in multiple Oscar wins, perhaps even for Best Picture.
Having seen all of the movies nominated for Best Picture by the Academy Awards, I can say that this certainly isn’t the best of them. It’s content is quite possibly the most important for viewers to understand, and although I wouldn’t have cast a vote for it as the Best Picture of 2016 either, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t of high quality. Just because the script wasn’t excellent, I still found it to be “really good”. The performances had a couple memorable moments, and there isn’t anyone from the primary 6 or 7 roles whom I would say was miscast. The mixture of historical footage throughout the film was mostly done well. All told, I would absolutely recommend the film.
My rating: 85 out of 100