Hidden Figures Reviews
These are three very important black women in American History as well as the Space Program. I sort of wish that they would have focused more on that than their personal lives. However, now that I know this I am going to be looking for a documentary about them.
It's so easy to say this movie is about one thing. You could say it is about the struggle African-Amercians had to get recognized in the '60s. Perhaps it is about NASA trying desperately to catch up the the Soviet space program. Or maybe it's about the under-representation of women in fields such as science and engineering (hang on, isn't that still the case?) The truth is, the film juggles a lot of issues deftly, without sacrificing the impact of any single point.
This film boasts an excellent cast, championed by Taraji P. Henson. She shows so many aspects of Katherine Johnson, and elevates everyone she is in a scene with. Octavia Spencer is always fun to watch, and she brings he A-game here. Janelle Monae rounds out our three leads, and provides a great foil for them. Other standout performances include Kevin Costner and Jim Parsons.
Some of the directing choices were not my thing (the use of historical footage was a bit to intercut), and there were aspects that I wasn't as into as the math, computing, and literal rocket science parts of the movie, but I cannot deny how well-put-together this package is.
I was overwhelmed by a virtual avalanche of inaccuracies (factual, historical, scientific), distortions and "Hollywood moments" which all rang so false in the face of historical knowledge, and in many cases, common sense, that I would have to periodically walk away and calm down. And do some research to check some details - love the Internet.
Yes, I know the film is not a documentary, I know that there is such a thing as dramatic licence and artistic licence and so forth, but - Holy Fuck - this was not, as advertised, a "dramatic biopic"; it was fairytale. The impact was doubled by the hideous dumbing-down of everything. Everything was a caricature. There are no real, 3-D people in this film. There are only goodies and baddies. The goodies are always right, and the baddies are always wrong. In fact, some of the goodies have magical powers and do things that are ridiculous and impossible - sort of the cerebral equivalent of action heroes in a Chuck Norris film, I suppose. There are 2 speaking part baddies who get redemption at the end of the film by seeing the error of their ways and finally behaving nicely. Ta-dah! Redemption level achieved. Lesson learned. Example set. Didn't see that coming, did you?
The central theme is that both black people ("coloreds") and women were treated unequally at the time in the US, and the film lays this on with a trowel. And then a shovel. And then a series of dump trucks. OK, the film-maker is entitled to emphasis his point, and these things were true in many aspects of everyday life, and this would be a fair enough take, except for one important thing. The average viewer would come away thinking that racial segregation was endemic at NASA, which is actually the opposite of the truth. NASA was a federally-mandated equal opportunity employer (one of the first), and in fact, set up by Johnson that way to provide opportunities for education, employment and advancement for blacks. Yes, there was one "Colored Women's Bathroom" (left over from the old NACA days), but it wasn't 1/2 a mile away, and the sign wasn't dramatically knocked down with a tyre iron in front of a breathless audience by the head of NASA (or Kevin Costner). As usual, the truth was more prosaic. Its existence was mostly ignored, and the sign was eventually removed with a memo. Apparently this tyre iron scene in the film had US audiences cheering. Cheering. Did they think it was real? Or even remotely likely?
The logic wouldn't fool a 12 year old.
While this film provides, apparently, many uplifting moments, I found it so contrived and false and wrong (unintentionally in many places) that I was alternating between outraged gasps and laughing out loud. I know that this is a common experience for those of us with an interest in history, but there is one difference here: many of the the people who worked there at the time are still around, and they must love that they're all being painted as misogynistic racists.
Most people don't read books or even articles. The film is what they will think was the truth. That's sad.
I could list all the distortions, exaggerations, and stupid scientific/factual errors in this film, but that will have to wait until I have a few hours spare.