Movie #154 2020: Hidden Figures (2016)

This is one of those movies that I really wanted to see when it came out, but not enough to force myself to get off my arse and go to the cinema.

Although it would have been worth my time to go to the movies (as I now know since watching it), I was really happy to see that Film4 were screening it this month, and to be honest, it’s not really a movie that needs to be seen on the big screen. A small screen will do just fine, which is more than can be said about many modern films with their elaborate graphics and blockbuster-style stunts.

Just in case you’re unaware, Hidden Figures is based on the book of the same name, which details the life of three African-American women who were working for NASA during the Cold War space race. As you can imagine, it wasn’t exactly plain sailing for these women, and we are taken on a journey of their lives through the Jim Crow era and the hardships they faced as a result of it.

Firstly, can you even imagine how many unsung African American hero stories there are just sitting out there not being told because people are still too racist to tell them? I’m glad that this film exists for that very reason, so it doesn’t hurt that it’s a well made one too.

The storytelling was pretty great – I got a sense of every emotion portrayed in this. I didn’t care much for the romantic backgrounds etc – as I rarely do in movies that don’t fall under the rom-com or whirlwind romance categories – but I understand that it was important to show them to put everything in context. Plus who doesn’t want to see Mahershala Ali?

As anticipated, the cast is outstanding. Taraji P. Henson has been one of my favourite actresses since Person of Interest, so it’s no shock to me how great she is here. She plays perhaps the most pivotal role in Hidden Figures: maths genius, Katherine G. Johnson, who was heavily-responsible for figuring out the specifics of what would need to be done to get a man on the moon. Janelle Monae and Octavia Spencer are brilliant too, and Monae especially brings a sassy flair to her character (Mary Jackson), who I’m assuming was just like that in real life. 

It was weird for me to see this movie so soon after watching Apollo 11. There was absolutely no footage of a single African-American scientist in that documentary, which suggests that they were kept as hidden as this film’s title suggests. This only served to heighten my anger towards the antagonists in Hidden Figures, and I would strongly suggest that you watch these films back to back. A ‘double feature’ of sorts.

Whereas I touted The World’s End as having the best soundtrack so far this year, this movie takes the cake for the best costumes. They are, in capital letters, ON POINT, and once again I’m outraged that it didn’t even gain a nomination for Costume Design at the Oscars that year. (Strangely, the very average Allied, starring Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard earned a nomination, but was nowhere near as masterful). The soundtrack is a true celebration of mid-20th century African American music and jazz too, and I’m glad that every single track was performed, produced, or written by a person of colour. It’s quite beautiful to listen to.

Although I don’t think this movie hit the heights of excitement that I wanted it to, it did a pretty good job of it. I believe it fell victim to wanting to include everything mentioned in the book, which is understandable, but a quick tweak here and there to shave off ten or so minutes might have been a good shout.

This is an important movie, there’s no doubt about that. And whether or not you care about the moon landing, it’s one that should be seen by all.

Hidden Figures is sadly no longer available on demand at All4, but you can actually BUY a download of the movie for a bargain £2.99 on Amazon.

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