With two Golden Globe nominations and now three Oscar nominations, “Hidden Figures” was a breakout blockbuster this holiday season. Even amidst the stiff competition of big-budget movies like “Rogue One” and “La La Land,” “Hidden Figures” scored big at box offices, and earned a glowing reception from critics, viewers and now the Academy.
And not without good reason: In a film season full of comparatively dry and stiff historical films, like “Jackie” and “Loving,” “Hidden Figures” was a pop of color and a breath of fresh air.
“Hidden Figures,” in short, follows the true story of three Black women working at NASA during the first shuttle launches, all mathematicians who contributed in one way or another to the success of those early missions. A calculator, a programmer and an aspiring engineer battle racism and sexism in the workplace, fighting for respect and success in a field that continually denied their skills and contributions.
This movie was the best kind of historical dramedy, placing us firmly in the world of 1950s Virginia and all the social and political tensions that came along with it, while sprinkling enough light and levity to keep us happy to be on the journey with our heroines. The three women at the center of the story, Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae) are brilliant, witty and brimming with the kind of spunk, spirit and emotional depth that I wish every female character on the big screen was imbued with.
Of the three leading actresses, Henson, Spencer and Monae, it’s impossible to say that any of them completely stole the spotlight, because all three sparkled on screen. Monae, long time R&B, funk and electropop musician, made her on-screen debut in “Moonlight,” released just two months before, but you could never
guess it by the way she captures the camera. The entire cast, which also included Mahershala Ali, who starred alongside Monae in “Moonlight,” as well as Kirsten Dunst and Kevin Costner, brilliantly brought to life this too-long-untold story and brought a life and a humanity to the story that historical films can sometimes lack.
The best moments were often the times where the main characters had respite from their huge, historical battles, and were given space to just be people: having fun, falling in love and drinking together out of mason jars in the middle of the day. That was what pushed this movie from being merely an important movie to a great movie: its ability to humanize these struggles for justice, and make us not only sympathize with these women, but love them too.
Among the greatest injustices of the film, however, was the Academy’s failure to give Henson the much-deserved nod for Best Lead Actress. Though its nominations for Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay, as well as Spencer’s nod for Best Supporting Actress, ease the wound a little, I know I am not alone in saying that Henson’s performance more than deserved a shot at best lead.
This film season, it seems, was full of long-anticipated, “must see” movies. But believe me when I say that of the many excellent movies to see this winter, “Hidden Figures” should be at the top of everyone’s list.