Hidden Figures landed in UK cinemas on what turned out to be an eventful weekend for feminist commentary. While the film was lazily dismissed as ‘civil rights by numbers’ in an English review, Serena Williams was chided for sabotaging her own equality battle in a swimsuit shoot by an Irish journalist and Beyonce was reminded of appropriate ways to celebrate her pregnancy via the NY Times. The timing of all three had plenty of people asking questions about whether black excellence will ever be palatable for some.
‘Hidden Figures’, directed by Theodore Melfi, with Pharrell on soundtrack and executive production, is the long awaited story of three women who made history as part of a team of NASA scientists to send John Glenn into space. The film came to life after author Margot Lee Shetterly went to visit a retired NASA mathematician and her favourite sunday school teacher Kathleen Land at her home after church. It was in the hours spent catching up with Mrs Land that day that led to the research that would eventually become ‘Hidden Figures’.
Hampton Virginia was home to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Langley Research Centre and in 1964 it was a hotbed of supersonics experts, engineers and mathematicians. The importance of the success of Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae) at a time when integration was largely mistrusted is a thing that can’t be understated. These women were trusted ‘computers’ working to send a man into space at a time in history were they were not valued enough by their society to share toilets with white people.
‘Hidden Figures’ lead characters rose through the ranks of NASA and they worked cheek by jowl with some of the most prominent aeronautics experts of the time, clearing a path for generations of men and women who were to come after. Finally, with this film their legacy and contribution has been acknowledged. Now all remains is for the Academy Awards to acknowledge the No.1 Box Office success for the film, which has become the highest grossing best picture nominee ever.
‘Hidden Figures’ is open nationwide in UK Cinemas now.