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Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

Hidden Figures | Taraji P. Henson, Kevin Costner, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe, Jim Parsons, Kirsten Dunst, Mahershala Ali | Review

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Jacqueline  Monahan

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Jacqueline Monahan is an educator for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also an entertainment reporter for
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Hidden Figures | Taraji P. Henson, Kevin Costner, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe, Jim Parsons, Kirsten Dunst, Mahershala Ali | Review

The true story of the (until now) unknown women of color whose brain power fueled NASA during the early sixties is brought to the screen by Writer-director Theodore Melfi (St. Vincent) and co-writer Allison Schroeder (Mean Girls) in a feel good, straightforward, linear narrative that, despite its conventional approach, manages to illuminate and educate.

Katherine Coleman Goble Johnson (Taraji P. Henson) a math prodigy practically since the time she could talk, faces racial and gender discrimination, jealousy and resentment of her white, male co-workers at NASA.  The coffee station is segregated upon her arrival.  The “colored” restroom is in another building, and she is forced to add the name of male co-worker Paul Stafford (Jim Parson) to her original work.  

 Johnson’s story is featured, supported by concurrent tales of friends Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe), co-workers stymied by skin color and era.  Computational expert Dorothy seeks to become a supervisor, a job that she already does but gets no compensation or credit for.  Mary wants to attend engineering school and has to take the matter to court to be allowed to go to night school.

Johnson’s big boss, the pragmatic Al Harrison (Kevin Costner), head of NASA’s Space Task Group, recognizes Johnson’s gift for calculation early, literally removing barriers to her effectiveness after misunderstanding her long bathroom breaks, and including her in classified meetings.

Vivian Michael (Kirsten Dunst) is the frosty supervisor over Dorothy Vaughn, barely listening to her requests for long-overdue promotion.  Meanwhile the ultra-accomplished Mary Jackson keeps getting rejected by engineering schools, just because…of her gender and race.
All three of the women are mothers; Katherine is a widow.  A bright spot in her frustrating work life is meeting and marrying Colonel Jim Johnson (Mahershala Ali) because, you know, all work and no play…

The cast fills their roles with down-to-earth believability and Costner’s Harrison comes across with a gruff humanity.  Taraji P. Henson resonates as the bespectacled, incandescent Katherine Johnson. Octavia Spencer’s Vaughn, the competent, long suffering unofficial supervisor under the withering authority of an unsympathetic superior is virtual integrity in tweed.  Janelle Monáe is a snappy force of nature as the engineering hopeful that would not be squelched by artificial barriers.

Jim Parsons, long celebrated for his role as Big Bang Theory’s lovable, socially inept Sheldon Cooper, a physics genius who lacks just about every other skill, shows some range as Stafford, a resistant, resentful co-worker who comes to appreciate Johnson, a “mere” woman who can continually out-calculate him.

Infuriating and inspiring in equal measure, Hidden Figures is a testament to the great female minds behind the men in space, human calculators upon whose calculations lives rested.  We recently lost John Glenn at the ripe old age of 95 in 2016.  That obituary could have read 1962 but for Johnson’s trajectory calculations for splashdown.

It’s a slice of history that has been indeed hidden behind the accomplishments of white men, circling the earth above its atmosphere, returning as heroes because of some of the most dedicated and talented women of color were silently and invisibly at the helm.  
They worked to send a man to the stars; though earthbound, they can rightly take their place among them.

Calculating females indeed.

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