Hidden Figures (8/10)
by Tony Medley
Runtime 128 minutes.
OK for children.
This is an
interesting, heart-warming film that is marred by a runtime at least 30
minutes too long and at least one counterfactual scene. This is a tale
that couldnít possibly justify a runtime in excess of 90 minutes. Tell
it and fade out. Instead it drags on and on and on to the spot where the
point is almost lost.
story of three black women, Katherine Johnson (Taraji P Henson), Dorothy
Vaughan (Octavia Spencer), and Mary Jackson (Janelle MonŠe), was
revealed in a novel by Margo Lee Slatterly, a graduate of the University
of Virginiaís McIntire school of Commerce. According to an article by
Denise Watson in Virginia Magazine, Slatterly
got the idea for her book
when she and her husband were visiting her parents in Hampton in 2010.
Her father, Robert Lee III, mentioned that her former Sunday school
teacher had been a human computer at NASA.
He rattled off the names
of other women, African-American and white, who, beginning in the 1930s,
used their acute math skills, slide rules and adding machines to do what
no one had done before. Hundreds of women worked as computers, but the
Jim Crow culture kept the black women segregated into their own West
Area Computing group, housing and bathrooms. The women still progressed.
Her father had joined NASA
in 1966 as a co-op college student from Norfolk State University and
worked with several of these women over the years. He retired from NASA
in 2004 as a climate scientist who had lectured around the world. He was
in the midst of pioneers but didnít see it as historic.
ďThere were so many
African Americans around me, and I just thought of it as we were doing
our jobs,Ē Lee says. ďA lot of times we didnít know what the other
person was doing. There were so many things going on.Ē
It took Slatterly three
years of research and interviews to put the book together as a result is
a fascinating tale of these unsung black women who played a key role in
Americaís conquest of space and, especially, John Glennís first historic
flight of an American circling the globe.
Johnson was a brilliant
mathematician and as you will see in the film was one of the most
important people with respect to Glennís successful flight. Vaughan was
also brilliant, but also a leader whose supervisorial talents were held
back because of her race. Jackson was equally brilliant and thought for
an education that was not easily available to a black person in those
years. She eventually became NASAís first black female aerospace
engineer and is thought to be the first black female engineer in the
The one false note that
I saw immediately was a scene in which Americans are huddled around
television sets to watch Yuri Gagarinís flight from Russia when he
became the first human to circle the globe. These scenes are totally
false because the Russians never announced anything until after the
flights were completed because they feared that a disaster would bring
international disdain. What was unique about Americaís space program was
that it was shown live. If a rocket had exploded, everyone wouldíve seen
it in real time.
But those are minor
criticisms. Even though itís too long itís an interesting and intriguing
tale and Slatterly, along with director
deserve a lot of plaudits for bringing their story to light.