When recounting the narrative of American history, it's easy to gloss over important details and the people who were involved in key events that helped move our country forward. The new movie "Hidden Figures" however, directed by Theodore Melfi, highlights a time when America was simultaneously fighting two battles, one internal and the other external. There was the Space Race within the larger Cold War against the Soviet Union, and of course the budding Civil Rights movement that aimed to abolish segregation and ameliorate the divisions between the country's majority White population and its various minority communities, particularly African Americans.
This movie mostly focuses on one figure, a mathematician named Katherine Goble Johnson, played by Taraji Henson. Katherine starts out as an incredibly gifted student when it comes to solving equations and later goes on as an adult to use her skills in a segregated computer division before becoming the first African American woman to be employed by NASA. As one would expect for a movie taking place during the era of segregation we see Katherine having to overcome the various prejudices of her day, such as a room of white men staring at her in shock when she drinks coffee reserved for them and having to run a mile to find the nearest "colored" restroom.
Despite these setbacks, she eventually works her way up to pinpointing the coordinates for some of NASA's successful flight operations, including the famous Moon landing. One of the things I found interesting about this movie is how both the Civil Rights movement and Space Race are connected as we follow Katherine's personal journey. Without the easing of race relations which made it possible for someone of Katherine's talent to become accepted into NASA, the outcome of the Space Race may have been entirely different and perhaps the Russians would have made it to the Moon before the Americans.
The acting in this movie was very well done and the screenplay is well focused and concise throughout. The two main side characters in the movie, Dorothy Vaughan (played by Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (played by Janelle Monáe), have their own stories where they become "first" in their respective fields as well. I also liked how this one moment that appeared to be played up for laughs eventually culminates into a climax that completely flips the mood on its head, which is eventually resolved when one of the sympathetic white characters steps in for a heartfelt scene. This is a very heartfelt and well-made movie about triumphing over adversity and I recommend that people watch this in theaters if they haven't already.