BY ROGER THOMAS
“Hidden Figures” tells a remarkable story. The trailer tells some of the tale, perhaps a little too much, but there are still great revelations throughout that offer commentary on racism, sexism, exclusion, inclusion and a whole host of other issues.
“Figures” tells the story of three African-American women who work for NASA during the sixties. These women are smart, smarter than many of the white men who hold higher positions, and yet they struggle to get promotions or even a simple minimum raise.They are not even allowed to drink from the same coffee pot or use a bathroom in the same building where they work with their collegues.
This film tells of many tragedies, but one of the things that impressed me the most in the film is the humor. I laughed often and outloud throughout the screening. The three leads, Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monae, have powerful moments with serious emotions, but they are at their best when they using sarcasm and wit to offer a light in the darkness of their situation. As the old saying goes, “Sometimes one has to laugh to keep from crying.” The trio of the leading actresses do make us laugh and cry as they teach a history lesson that needed desperately to be told.
So why have we not heard of these three remarkable ladies sooner?” Their stories should inspire anyone, espeically young women and people of color to reach for the stars, figuratively or literally.
Those who have seen “The Right Stuff” will remember the story of John Glenn, the first man in space. This version of the same events is told quite differently as “Figures” includes the prominent role Katherine Johnson played in bringing Glen safely home. Johnson is played by Taraji P. Henson. Our nation recently lost John Glenn but we may have lost this heroic figure much sooner without the work of Katherine Johnson.
Conflicts in race relations in our nation have not ended. There are still people who would like to go back to a more primitive time. Similar to another film from this year, “Loving,” “Hidden Figures” is one more light shining on a past that harbored much sin. In spite of the hate, many women served our space program, our nation, and ultimately our world. The story of three of these ladies needed to be told because their actions were “great” even when their situations were far from “great or easy.”
Another strength of the film is that there is almost no objectionable language, violence or other material that would hinder children and teenagers from seeing the film. I would encourage all families to take their children over ten to the film so that can learn the history of a bygone time. As that old saying attributed to George Santayana goes, “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” May we never be doomed to repeat the mistakes depicted in “Hidden Figures.”
One other strength of the film is the supporting cast members that play prominant roles. Kevin Costner plays a leader of NASA who has several revelations throughout the film. Jim Parsons, famous for “The Big Bang Theory” is great as a fellow mathmitician who cannot keep up with Henson’s character. Glen Powell does a fine job as John Glenn. Kirsten Dunst also shines in an unkind role.
“Hidden Figures” offers an exciting history lesson, a talented cast, humor, constant reminders that we are at a better place in race relations than we used to be, even though we still have a great distance to go, and finally, “Hidden Figures” is simply one of the best films of 2016. Seek it out because like all great films, it deserves an audience.
Roger Thomas is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association. He reviews films for The Stanly News & Press.