We all won because these Hidden Figures reached for the stars

(From IMDb.com)

(From IMDb.com)

The nation was full of hope and fears in so many ways back in 1961 when these folks at NASA were busting butt to keep up with the Russians, a President on small screens seen by huge groups voicing dreams and concerns as fragmented groups wondered if they could come together to accomplish this greater good.

Director and co-writer Theodore Melfi caught that mood perfectly Hidden Figures. And the work of Taraji P. Henson, Ocatavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe as the trio of African American women who taught the ranks at NASA their true worth and helped get astronaut John Glenn up and around our Earth truly makes this movie something to celebrate as we move into a new year and the start of a new presidential regime. Melfi’s script, with co-writer Allison Schroeder based on the book by Margot Lee Shetterly, takes us on an important history lesson as entertaining and uplifting as it is informative and sobering.

Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson are three workers in the “western colored computing wing” of NASA when we meet them with their car broke down on the side of a near-Langley, Va., road. A burly white state police trooper susses out their touch of fear, confidence and pride in place of employment and mission, then offers them an escort to get them their pronto to join in the race to space. Monáe’s Jackson gets behind of their jump-started car and thrills at the real-life chance to chase a trooper down the road.

So it rolls in the 2-hour, 7-minute world Melfi (who also wrote and directed the pleasingly eccentric. St. Vincent) constructs in big and bold scenes using large and small messages.

They had what it took. (From IMDb.com)

They had what it took. (From IMDb.com)

For instance: The women in the computers wing had to use their segregated bathroom, a significant philosophical bridge but small physical bridge in that building. But when Henson’s Johnson is transferred to the main space center, where there’s no colored women’s room, she must scoot the half-mile back to the old building each time she’s in need. This trip is turned into a huge message when accompanied by the big song by Pharrell Runnin’. Her smug white co-workers, led by a tight guy played in a few-arrogant-words-are-the-best performance by Jim Parsons, also silently place a tiny coffee pot out next to their big one for her use only. When the big boss, played pleasingly by a shirt-sleeved, almost-all-business Kevin Costner, finally addresses her too-long pee breaks, she breaks loose from the indignities at last. After really hearing of her indignities, finally, the boss marches over to the colored wing and demolishes the bathroom sign and the notion of segregated bathrooms at NASA forevermore.

The capacity crowd for the 6:40 p.m. Friday show in the big Regal Cinemas theater in Syracuse mega shopping, dining and entertainment complex Destiny USA let loose a big cheer for his outburst. It was one of several audible signs of approval as the women live well, learn wisely, and conquer the time, circumstances and social injustices the best they can.

Melfi shows us how help came from what could have been surprising places, such as the Mercury Seven astronauts themselves, who went out of their way to acknowledge the contributions of these women, and particularly John Glenn at the most crucial moments, and a judge who went against tradition to allow Jackson to attend engineering classes in a segregated school. Then again, the women earned all of this, too.

And Henson, Spencer and Monáe shine brightest as the stars. Henson goes deep and soulful aswidowed mother Johnson, the woman who’s truly best with the numbers and more trustworthy than the first IBM. Spencer stays steady as a leader even when her Vaughan is refused the official supervisor role by a prissy personnel worker played by Kirsten Dunst. Monáe blazes as fiery Jackson, who overcomes the societal prejudices to become the first African American NASA engineer.

The photos of the real-life trio and explanations of what they accomplished for NASA after the period of the movie ended were a terrific clincher.

They also should make you think: How far have we come as a society as we enter 2017?

With limited-run before the end of 2016, Hidden Figures is Oscar-eligible. It’s my front-runner for best picture.

Do you think much of our space program these days? What do you think about our fragmented society and what can be done to come together? What’s your favorite Octavia Spencer movie, and why?

15 thoughts on “We all won because these Hidden Figures reached for the stars

  1. I figured you had seen this one & reviewed it 😊 I thought it was an awesome movie – loved Costner’s quote during the bathroom scene – “At NASA we all pee the same color . . .”
    And according to my sources, we are going to Mars . . . working it hard to show capability by first getting out of low Earth orbit & orbiting the Moon again 1st, then hopefully to Mars!


  2. I really hope this movie does well in the Oscars. Certainly deserves it.
    You have to wonder about the criteria used for awards – this one against La La Land musical? Doesn’t seem close in category.
    (Oh there is a Mars space initiative, but so low key….but just for the Super Bowl they’ve hauled a Mars /moon rover, space suits, space relics down the fwy to a park near the Convention Center where a lot of NFL activities will be happening…nothing says football like the space program? Oh, Houston, city of the future? Anything to spark the interest in getting back up there gets my approval)


  3. i’m excited to see this too, and hope my crowd is as into it as yours was, makes the experience even that much better. no sure where we stand in the space race these days, but i have been hearing rumblings about mars projects. i loved octavia in ‘the help.’ she is an amazing actress.


    • It seems the country as a whole does not rally ’round the space program like then, Beth. We are more immune to the reality of it because of the big fiction we see in space movies, perhaps? Hey, I hope your movie audience adds to your enjoyment of this movie, too, my friend.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. It was such an exciting era. Women finally got a seat at the table. (Not that it was easy)
    I can’t speak for all NASA communities/facilities at that time, but here at Mission Control/Houston where the astronauts lived and trained among other space race related project, the area was buzzing with an influx of the super nerds from across the nation – highly intelligent outside the box creative people that were more about what you thought and could do than what you looked like. It was great. Finally girls and women could be smart and not sneered at. There were women pilots as well.
    Schools here offered computer programing/emerging technology with girls welcomed (as well as Russian joining the offered languages of Latin- necessary for engineering and science routes, French, and Spanish)
    The movie sounds intesting. Hopefully it doesn’t get stuck in the usual sterotypes.
    Science and math nerds rock – then and now!


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