Hidden Figures (2016)

Now if I consider the movie viewing experience of us Indians, the have this: The movie which released on 25th December 2016 in the US, release almost two months later, on 17th February 2017 in India. Now have it as you may, but this for moviegoers like me is a sad state. Nevertheless, I went to watch Hidden Figures on friday. Already hearing such good praises about the film, I was excited. And being a hobbyist computer programmer for almost 11-1/2 years, its only fair that I be a tad biased toward a film that uses FORTRAN as a means of exacting socially relevant revenge.

Hidden Figures follows the story of three African-American women, working at NASA in the 60s, who played a crucial part in launching astronaut John Glenn into orbit. It is set in the 60s, when the entire white community is prejudiced against the ‘coloured’, and the Soviet Union & the US is committed to win the space race.

Back in the 60s in Virginia, it was bad enough if you are a woman; if you’re ‘black’, then God forbid. Hidden Figures captures beautifully, the incredible story about the three extraordinary women-mathematicians who overcome gender and race bias and made space history.

We are shown the early childhood time of Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson). She has an extraordinary talent in mathematics and calculations from a very early age. But being a woman and that too coloured, she has to work at NASA with other coloured ladies, as a computer (humans performing all the big calculations required by departments). This is a serious insult to her intellect as a mathematician.

But soon, Johnson is called into a room full of White male mathematicians to assist in some literal rocket science, at the request of Vaughan’s supervisor (Kirsten Dunst). But there another power game rises. Everyone is stumped by Johnson’s calculations, especially Paul Stafford (Jim Parsons), the hotshot whose math Johnson is hired to check. Along with all the unwelcome men terrified to see a coloured woman check their calculations, Johnson also has to deal with the tough, though fair complaints of her grizzled supervisor, Al Harrison (Kevin Costner).

While Johnson tries to keep John Glenn (charmingly played by Glen Powell) from exploding atop a rocket and Vaughan fights FORTRAN and Dunst for the right to be a supervisor, Janelle Monae is secretly walking off with the picture. Mary Jackson wants to be the first Black engineer at NASA.

And, while watching the movie, I couldn’t help but wonder, that if Hidden Figures would have released some 10 odd years ago, I would have thought some more before I let go Computer Science to study Design. I would have given my career choice some more thought.

Anyway, I’m going with 4/5 stars to Theodore Melfi’s Hidden Figures. This film does make my amateur mathematician’s heart proud. It deserves to make as much money as any movie from Marvel Universe or even the dumb Salman Khan movies does. This is one of the year’s best films.