Meet the women you don’t know, behind the mission you do.
Set in the early 1960s at the height of the space race and of segregation, rousing feelgood biopic Hidden Figures salutes the trailblazing achievements of three African-American women who worked behind the scenes at Nasa as ‘human computers’, doing the hard sums before electronic machines were up to the task.
Taraji P Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe deliver immensely winning performances as the trio, Katherine G Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, each of them battling racism and sexism as they strive to play their part in putting astronaut John Glenn into space for his historic 1961 orbit around the Earth.
Theodore Melfi’s movie takes liberties with real events, and puts a Hollywood gloss on the women’s actual roles, yet its invented scenes – such as Henson’s Johnson sprinting half a mile across Nasa’s Langley campus in high heels to use the ‘Colored’ restroom – highlight the very real prejudice and bigotry the women encountered in the Deep South of the time.
As it happens, Kevin Costner’s noble white boss is also invented (his character is apparently a composite). Naturally, he gets his share of crowd-pleasing moments, too, as when he takes a sledgehammer to that offensive restroom sign. But it’s the women’s spark and sass that warrants and receives the film’s biggest cheers.
Certificate PG. Runtime 127 mins. Director Theodore Melfi
Hidden Figures available on Blu-ray, DVD & Digital Download.