Fifty-six years ago, the first Black women came to work at NASA, a milestone during a time that in a way appears similar to our modern-day culture. Maybe there are no more Jim Crow segregation laws, but we still see Civil Rights protests by angry citizens flaunting picket signs, gender discrimination in the workforce, and consistent scientific breakthroughs from widely respected corporations. You might believe me when I say how very little has changed since then, as we are ultimately guilty of repeating the same mistakes, which the newest biopic, Hidden Figures, subtly proves to us.
It churns your stomach to remember the function of class relations in 1961: all colored people by law could only touch specially separated computers, bathrooms, and coffee stations labeled, “colored.” The police also had the privilege to escort a Negro out of the library for setting foot in the “White” section. Unbelievably, these rules to living were active not too long ago. Yet these circumstances allow the delivery of an uplifting true story about man’s historical progression and future potential.
Three ladies of color are seen beside a nonfunctioning car in the Virginia countryside. So who else would come to ruin their day other than a stubborn police officer? It looks like a deep pit of doom until they suddenly get the car functioning again, and successfully convince the officer to escort them to their jobs at NASA.
One is sent to the other “colored” workers in a separate room from the rest of the campus, one is left to work in the testing facility where the other men bully her, and one gets the worst of it—she spends day and night working behind a desk, ruthlessly mistreated by everybody else. Her incredible knowledge in analytical geometry makes little difference; she still gets deliberately discriminated by her coworkers, and has no other options other than to race half a mile across campus to the nearest “colored” bathroom whenever she needs to relieve herself.
The cast and crew’s hard work results in a loyal adaptation, both to the true story and to the Margot Lee Shetterly book it’s based on. Educational facilities everywhere will benefit from its survey of the cultural influence on NASA during its early efforts of launching man into space. If that’s not a landmark event in societal progression worth telling, then I don’t know what is.
Although beside the meticulous recreation of the Civil Rights era’s segregation, the overall period setting offers nothing new to the cinematic experience. Director Theodore Melfi’s direction brims in the epitome of generic: creating too squeaky-clean of an atmosphere in order to be the sole “family-friendly” Oscar buzz movie. The bright colors and made-for-television sets do not recreate the sickening feel of the era it attempts to establish. Although the period does get needed justice by showing a series of news footage from the time, the slightly-off-focus cinematography fails to craft the feel of immersion.
The shifts in tone and character may feel a bit too sudden to produce any further realism in the environment, the overwhelmingly masculine society triggers a series of intriguing tests onto the three women. At home, one of them must act as both mommy and daddy to her three daughters, adding to her already boiling pressure. The challenges on and off the job never seem to quit, and the remarkable chemistry between the three leading ladies: Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monáe, halt any dull moments. Henson particularly deserves special recognition in her portrayal of an independent woman we want to succeed; her transparent discomfort comes across as all the White workers stop and stare at the color of her skin.
While a picture about the Civil Rights era probably didn’t need to dwindle its content down to a profitable PG-rating, the job still triumphs based on the difficult subject the cast and crew had to handle. In light of recent memories we have succumbed to throughout 2016, all of us: man and woman, dark or light, millennial and baby boomer, ought to use a high quality feel-good drama to look toward a brighter 2017.
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Beth. Unemployment rates for adults with autism. Easter Seals. 1 Apr 2015. Web. <http://blog.easterseals.com/unemployment-rates-for-adults-with-autism/>.
Erbentraut, Joseph. How These 4 Major Companies Are Tackling The Autism Unemployment Rate. The Huffington Post, 7 May 2015. Web. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/05/07/autism-employment_n_7216310.html>.
Hidden Figures. 20th Century Fox, Web. <http://www.foxmovies.com/movies/hidden-figures>.
Hughes, Kayleigh. How Accurate Is 'Hidden Figures'? The Film Relies On True, Amazing Facts. Bustle. BDG Media, 27 Dec 2016. Web. <https://www.bustle.com/p/how-accurate-is-hidden-figures-the-film-relies-on-true-amazing-facts-26364>.