Review: Hidden Figures

Hidden Figures is a 2016 film directed by Theodore Melfi about the true story of three geniuses who worked for NASA and helped calculate and solve the moon landing in the Space Race against Russia. Taraji P. Henson plays Katherine Johnson, Janelle Monae plays Mary Jackson, and Octavia Spencer plays Dorothy Vaughn; all three of these characters were criminally underestimated for their work, and because of the color of their skin and their gender, they were not given the same opportunities to succeed as their caucasian male counterparts. Still, they manage to blow the people around them away and totally defy the stereotypes that others set for them, raising the bar to heights that nobody around them could even hope to achieve. And yeah, it’s sort of your basic Oscar-bait film that we see every year with the same subject matter that we see every year. People say that superhero movies will start to get old, but films like these already have. I’m all for equality in every sense and I think that the fact that racism and sexism exist in the first place is petty since we’re all just people trying to live life.

I’m going to spend this next paragraph defending my last few statements. Yes, films like these have gotten old to me because you can see every beat from miles away. Here’s the story that I made sure to write down before seeing the movie: we are introduced to the three main characters and immediately see that they are capable and intelligent people, but they are immediately questioned by some white male superior. They endure difficulties associated with their color and gender in that time period but are given a small shot to succeed. That shot is taken away to add emotional struggle and drama, and they are constantly belittled and underestimated yet they spend the rest of the movie proving themselves endlessly. Nobody listens. Dark Night of the Soul: everything is hopeless and all of their work will fail unless they pull out their last ounce of courage and make a stand for their rights. Then, they become the underdog and save the day at the end and finally get the recognition that they deserve; everything pays off and it’s a happily ever after. Dry tears, roll credits. And guess what? That’s the story that we get… to a T. Minus the tears because this movie was as predictable as it could have possibly been. Yes, I’ve seen it for, at least once per year. Give me something original! These stories have been done endlessly.

That being said, these actresses make this movie so much better and they do an incredible job of it. It’s heartbreaking that these three people can far outperform their peers yet they are not given the shot to do so, and even when they try to, nobody pays attention to them. Henson, Monae, and Spencer delivered such great performances as their respective characters and they each bring something unique to the film. Henson plays the main character and brings quite a bit of elegance, intelligence and magnetism to the role that really made it hard to not respect the hell out of her character, even with just how Henson carried her on screen. I did feel as though she was a little cartoony and over-the-top, however, as if she was supposed to be highly autistic (like a Rain Man sort of character) and was surprised to find out that this was not the case. Monae brings just the right amount of comic relief as to not distract from the seriousness of the story, but enough to make her scenes fun and her character fascinating to watch on screen.

Spencer was by far my favorite element of the film, and she delivered one hell of a powerhouse performance as the more somber friend who is constantly rejected the position and pay of Supervisor even though she puts in the work every day. Furthermore, her character I found to be the most respectable and diligent, which made it hardest to watch when Kirsten Dunst‘s character kept denying Dorothy any promotion because she deserved it. Part of me didn’t like watching the film from the shame that it even exists and that these prejudiced events ever occurred; Kevin Costner and Jim Parsons play the “important white men” in the film and are constantly outdone by Katherine Johnson but refuse to accept, admit, or even notice this as they are too busy being “important white men.” Parsons’ Paul Stafford character is most certainly the main antagonist of the film for Johnson since he extends her workload, puts her down, makes her feel useless and constantly tests her and pushes her over the edge for his prejudice and ignorance. Of course, she shows him at the end which one can see from miles away, but it was a nice payoff to see since it was well deserved.

Overall, Hidden Figures is exactly what you’d expect it to be and offers a story that has been told so much that this film seems bland in comparison. The performances are really the only elements that can sell this film as Monae, Henson, and Spencer absolutely kill it and deliver such heartbreaking performances as the geniuses who were undermined, undervalued and underestimated for the way they were born, even though they far outshine those around them. If The Help, Remember the Titans, 42, The Butleretc. (all great movies) are your favorite films and you’d like to see another one just like those with a hint of Apollo 13 in there, then this is the movie for you. If you’re looking for something original and unique, then you’d best turn around and look elsewhere. I’m going to give this film an average 6/10 and a yellow recommendation. It’s perfectly fine but doesn’t impress me at all, so watch it if you want, but I wouldn’t rush. Have you seen this film? What did you think about it? As always, thanks for reading and I’ll see you soon!

Published by Blake Carson Schwarz

Indiana University graduate in Media and Creative Writing. I love to write my own stories as well as experience the work of others. On this site, I post reviews, essays, and other fun posts that I hope you have as much fun reading and I have writing. Please share any comments you have, I'd be happy to hear what you think! *Never a critic, always a fan*

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