Hidden Figures (2016)

Hidden Figures is a movie whose title has a double meaning. This movie is about specialized mathematicians who work at NASA, before the launch of the first Spaceships. The “Figures” refers to both the numbers in the calculations, but also the people who performed that work.

View the trailer here.

In the 1950s qnd 1960s, Americans were working on their space program, initially under the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). In 1958, President Eisenhower essentially created the NASA as we know it today. Back then everything was new. Computers, as we know them today, were in their infancy, and the term computers referred to actual people who performed the calculations that modern computers do today. There were pools of computers who were given the task of verifying scientist’s work, and also calculating the numbers that literally got the space program off the ground.

The movie focuses on three African-American women, friends who are a part of the ‘colored’ pool of computers for NASA, at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia. Segregation was still going on, and the women in the pool were loaned out for specific projects.  Each one has to overcome the biases inherent in the job, as well as the underlying  racism.

Katherine Goble (Taraji P. Henson) is assigned to the Space Task Group, the ones who are making the final calculations for launching and landing the actual spaceships. Given the stress of the job, no computer has lasted with the group for more than a short time. Katherine is determined to succeed, despite the situation. Paul Stafford (Jim Parsons) is an arrogant scientist who doesn’t make things easy for her.

Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) gets assigned to the engineers who are trying to get the space capsule working. She encounters less bias on the job, but still has huge hurdles to face.

Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer) has become the de-facto manager of the computer pool. We find early on that she’s a tinkerer, and knows how to get things done when it’s needed. Her supervisor, Vivian Mitchell (Kirsten Dunst), is more of a roadblock to everything Dorothy tries to accomplish.

This is an excellent movie. It walks you through many of the things that had to be in place before space flight was achievable. They really took the time and effort to get the feel of it right. Speaking as The Man, I could gloss over the racism that shows up throughout the film, but I am totally unqualified to comment any further. It’s a big part of what is accomplished in the movie, but not the only part. This movie is based on real events, and real people, and it needs to stand on its own, and it does that extremely well. As a movie, it’s one of the best I’ve seen in years. I cannot recommend it enough.

Once you’ve seen the film, and you really should, come back and visit this link, which explains the truth behind the film. In order to make Hidden Figures, some of the timeline has been rearranged, and some other facts that would get in the way of making the film are combined and/or adjusted, but their impact is definitely felt.