The feel-good film you have to see

Review: Hidden Figures

(PG) Taraji P Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe

During the Kennedy Administration of the 1960s, the eyes of the world were on the US and Russian space programs. NASA was under immense pressure to get ahead of the Soviets, who had recently put the Sputnik satellite into orbit. The fascinating true story behind new movie Hidden Figures reveals how the challenges of space exploration in the 1960s brought together mathematics, new technology and, interestingly, the civil rights movement.

The personal journeys of Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson and Katherine Johnson — mathematicians, or ‘human computers’, of the space program —qualify them as unassuming heroes of their generation. The trio’s great minds could achieve the goals set before them at NASA, but they had to overcome the barriers of an era that limited the advancement of African-American women. Due to the ever-changing atmosphere and the great need for talent at NASA, theses women were put into positions of being pioneers in their fields. In the process, they also became examples for the civil rights movement. All of these social and personal changes play against Hidden Figures‘ backdrop of getting the first men from the US space program into space.

Based on the untold true story of these barrier-breaking women, this qualifies as one of the best feel-good films of the year. Director Theodore Melfi follows up the brilliant film, St. Vincent, with this inspirational tale of working to change a system from within. Even with all of the historical events occurring outside of NASA, this trio of women managed to make a difference that had an impact that still resonates today. It is a film that exposes the best and worst of American ideology, and how it is constantly evolving. The message of Hidden Figures encourages us to look at the past and desire to not return to it. Instead, we celebrate the potential changes which can occur when people work to push through the human-made barriers in life.

Every member of the cast was perfectly chosen for their contribution to the film. Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe prove to be the trifecta of excellence in their perspective roles. With class and a quiet strength, each fills the shoes of the dynamic women they represent in history. None of them manages to outshine the others, even though the film centres on Katherine Johnson’s impact on the space program.

The value placed upon family, faith and working for the betterment of the community is a refreshing element that all of these women personify in their own unique way. Surrounding these performances arethe exemplary cast members of Kevin Costner, Jim Parsons, Kirsten Dunst and Mahershala Ali, who is coming off his powerful performance in Moonlight.

During a season of powerful and onerous films, Hidden Figures is a light in a very dark room. It manages to approach an exceptionally difficult subject matter with a message of  hope. As a viewer, it was a delight to travel through this well-told journey of these inspirational women.

Hats off to author Margot Lee Shetterly and director Melfi for delivering a story that can be celebrated by anyone despite their race, gender or age.

What are some of the bigger questions to consider from this film?

  1. What is the value of family? (Genesis 2:24, Exodus 20:12, Psalm 22:6, John 15:12-17)
  2. Does God care about overcoming obstacles in life? (Psalm 27:1, Isaiah 41:3, James 1:19-21)
  3. What does the Bible have to say about racism? (John 7:24, James 2:9, 1 John 2:9)
  4. How are we to respond to negativity and hate? (Proverbs 6:16-19, John 15:18-16:4 )

Russell Matthews works for City Bible Forum Sydney and is a film blogger




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