There’s been a lot of talk of “making America great again.” At this point I’m sickened at the mention of the phrase, which is nothing more than a dog-whistle for white nationalists and racists. America has always been comprised of great people, even if their shameful treatment at America’s hands did not reflect their greatness. Making America great again mustn’t involve returning to an era where diversity and equality were completely ignored. Films like Hidden Figures are necessary now more than ever, a reminder of how far we’ve come in our recognition of things like wage equality, and an example of art as an informative teaching tool. The climate fostered by the new administration is not one conducive to artistry, but as long as we make our voices heard and support films like Hidden Figures, these stories will continue being told.
The film gives a biographical account of pioneering African American mathematicians Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson, No Good Deed), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer, Bad Santa 2), and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae, Moonlight); three women who were integral to NASA’s early efforts at putting a man in space. Now we have terms like ‘intersectionality’ to describe the ways in which multiple forms of discrimination conflate with one another, but during the Jim Crow era in which these brilliant women found themselves – no one particularly cared about the disparities they faced. They were more likely to be resented than valued for their intellect, but still they pressed on.
Visually, the film was vibrant, its cinematography harkening back to a dichotomous time in our history, the bright veneer and genteel wholesomeness of poodle skirts and milkshakes belying an ugly reality of discrimination and brutality. Pharell’s score grounded the film and kept it humming along, while supporting turns from Kevin Costner (Criminal) and Kirsten Dunst (The Two Faces of January) rounded out a notable cast. I don’t typically go for the “feel good” movies, but for once I enjoyed a heartwarming story.
The three stars have wonderful camaraderie and chemistry with each other, and themes of sisterhood and solidarity are prevalent throughout the film. I was inspired by the protagonists’ unapologetic confidence and brilliance.Through sheer excellence Katherine forced a seat at the table, her calculations proving critical to NASA’s quest to put an American in space. Their story is a thoroughly American one, an inspiring example for girls and boys alike. Boldly resilient, these women forged a path for all women and represent the best of America – which doesn’t need to be made great again. Grade: A