A popular concept is the idea of the man behind the man. What history has told us, that while there are many stories of men behind the curtain, there are just as many woman behind the man stories yet to be told. Some of which are far more interesting, especially when you add something as vast as, space. “Hidden Figures” follows a group of women who worked for NASA as we were racing the Russians into space. These though were not just any women in 1961, they were a team of African-American women, and their story is pretty spectacular.
Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spence), and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) are not three names that come to mind when you think of the Space race. All three of these women worked at NASA, but were not treated as equals. Something set them apart though, and while NASA was having problems solving the math that was needed for space flight, it was these women who held the key to solving it. It seems that while people may see color, math does not, which allows Johnson to be the answer the program was missing the entire time. Meanwhile Vaughn is trying to become a supervisor to a group of women called “computers”. When NASA invests in a real computer, the men in charge of figuring it out are having a few problems. In steps Vaughn, who figures it all out and gets the computer running in time to help put Americans in space. Jackson, is a woman hell bent on being an engineer, and knocks down every door in order to make that happen. It’s these three women who aided in getting America into space, and eventually the moon.
This is exactly the kind of history that should be told to everyone, but especially to our children. Too often they are told what they can’t do, but its stories like this that remind them that they can do anything when they put their mind to it, no matter who they are. Written for the screen by Allison Schroeder and Therodore Melfi, from the book by Margot Lee Shetterly, everything is there for a great story, but something is lacking. What seems to be missing is taking a chance, much like the women portrayed in the movie. Instead the writers play it safe, as the movie has no edge to it. What we do know of history is the prejudices that existed in that time all over America, but here the sharp edges were filed down to make it easier to swallow. Maybe it was decided to be done this way as it could be shown in schools, it still feels like the ‘light’ version. Technically the film is well done, with good performances from its cast, which also included Kevin Costner, Kristen Dunst, and Jim Parsons. This is not a bad film at all; it is just the “safe” version of these women’s story. It is good however to see that these truths are being brought to light and that there were indeed strong women behind the men that made space exploration possible.