So much of the world is built off the backs of minorities that it’s nice to see a film that not only acknowledges this, but celebrates it. “Hidden Figures,” directed by Theodore Melfi, tells the story of Katherine Johnson, played excellently by Taraji P. Henson, who had much to do with the success of the early NASA programs. She is supported by her two friends, also black women in NASA, played by Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae.
The three of them are held back by a mass of white bodies, with the exception of her boss, Al Harrison – the typical kindly white elder who is a sore spot of cliché in a film that suffers from a few. The film is directed by the book. It has few scenes or even shots that are interesting or innovative, and the script suffers from plenty of old tropes and scenes that drag on. One of the aforementioned tropes, is an unnecessary and underdeveloped romance between Henson’s character and a man played by Mahershala Ali, whose charisma and powerful presence tries it’s best to make me forget how unneeded he is in the film. But charismatic performances alone don’t save films that are clear Oscar bait like these. What makes “Hidden Figures” stand out from similar films like “American Sniper” or “Hacksaw Ridge” is the story itself.
Taraji P. Henson has this look on her face throughout the film that is this kind of tired disgust which sums up her character (and the film) so perfectly. She is fed up and tired of the way she is treated again and again in this white male world, knowing this is atrocious and terrible. Through this, the true nature of the film is showcased – this isn’t a film where the way it’s made or the artistry put in is important, the real life story of it is. These women, who faced what I like to call the Obama syndrome (where the first minority person to do something (be president, be a pilot, etc.) is expected not just to be a good one, but the BEST one) as NASA employees. And in the face of #Oscarssowhite, 2016 was a year that had this same burden on it to produce minority made art that could be acknowledge by the Academy. All of these in the atmosphere created a film that, while standard and nothing extremely groundbreaking, has strengths all its own.