Review: ‘Hidden Figures’ reaches for the stars

By MACKENZIE HOWE

Danville High School

“Katherine Johnson knew: once you took the first step, anything was possible.” These words that appeared in Margot Lee Shetterly’s book “Hidden Figures” are powerful and inspiring, and they certainly set the tone for the film adaption of the book that was released on December 25, 2016. For centuries, humans have been looking up to space. It has been a defining factor in education and American patriotism, but those on the ground who make space exploration possible are often overlooked. “Hidden Figures” takes the chance to honor the unrecognized black women who acted as human computers to make calculations that were necessary for various space missions. The 127 minute film is gripping from beginning to end as you follow the stories of Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson, three women who worked in the segregated West Area Computers division of the Langley Research Center during the early 1960s. 

Actress Taraji P. Henson portrays Katherine Johnson perfectly. She captures the genuine emotions of her character and casts feelings of motivation and pride to her audience. Henson is the perfect candidate to play as strong and inspiring a woman as Katherine Johnson, the mathematician who faces gender-based and racial discrimination as she breaks down barriers in science and mathematics. Despite Henson’s brilliant portrayal, it is clear that “Hidden Figures” is not a solo success story. Johnson’s struggles and gains are closely interwoven with the stories of her colleagues Dorothy Vaughan (played by Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (portrayed by Janelle Monáe). The three actresses, like the woman they are demonstrating, work primarily as a team but each stand alone as shining stars.

The musical score for “Hidden Figures” was another defining factor in the film’s beauty. Composer Hans Zimmer, who also created the musical scores for movies like “Pirates of the Caribbean,” “The Dark Knight Rises,” and “Planet Earth II,” truly creates a time-period appropriate environment with jazzy vibes interspersed between inspirational pieces. His compositions do not distract from the action of the movie. They provide gorgeous enhancement to already powerful scenes.

Of course, movies about exceptional figures in history are often subject to “cheesiness.” The characters are often held above the realm of the average human’s capabilities. This issue is flawlessly avoided in “Hidden Figures.” Despite Johnson’s superior intellect, director Theodore Melfi ensures that his characters come across as relatable and human. Rather than putting a major emphasis on the confusing business of space science, the film is an illustration of three strong women who battle in the workplace using their skill and intellect.

“Hidden Figures” certainly qualifies as a feel-good movie. It delves into issues like discrimination in an effective and non-somber way. It showcases an all-star cast with each member bringing a unique and special feature to the film. In fact, my only criticism is that a more fair balance of screen time between the protagonists might have been slightly more interesting. Johnson was the emphasis in the majority of the scenes in the movie, but I would love to see more into the captivating stories of Vaughan and Jackson.

Overall, “Hidden Figures” is a beautiful and poignant story that offers insight into minority human computers that significantly contributed to American success in the space race during the 1960s. Be sure to catch it before it takes off out of theaters!  I give this movie five out of five anchors.