Review: Hidden Figures Shines New Light on History

By Thomas Jenkins · February 2, 2017

I think it’s safe to assume that the premise of “Hidden Figures” is well known, especially since it has been nominated for three Oscars – Best Picture, and to Octavia Spencer for Actress in a Supporting Role. Plus you’ve probably already read other reviews. And if you’re like me, you’re going to see it because you want to watch nominated films prior to Oscar night, in at least in the following categories: Best Picture, Writing (Adapted Screenplay) Best Actress/Actor in a Leading role, Best Actress/Actor in a Supporting Role, Directing, Writing (both adapted and original), and if I can, Best Foreign Language.


So I’m guessing that you’ve already seen the movie, or you’re going to see it no matter what reviewers have to say. With that in mind, here’s my take.


Yes, overall “Hidden Figures” is a feel good movie! But it does contain of a lot of feel bad moments – which is certainly the point and I applaud the film for that. The film moves at a great pace. The writing is succinct – there are none of those moments where you say “OK I get it, move on”. The acting is brilliant and you get a history lesson along the way.


My history lesson started with an introduction to some of the drivers behind the space race –which I really had never thought about before seeing this film. Other lessons included: IBM – when computers took up a whole room; the threat of Soviet domination; feminism – ladies weren’t permitted to attend many meetings; workplace culture – everyone is referred to as Mr./Miss or Mrs., there is no work/life balance, and it all takes place in a sea of white males wearing white dress shirts, and where all females wear skirts (below the knee) and heals, no jewelry – well maybe a simple strand of pearls; the Kennedy era and of course Civil Rights. Actual footage of some historic events are gently and judiciously woven in.


But what struck me most is how context plays such a huge part in a viewers experience. Oh yeah, the whole time, I was watching the film I couldn’t help but reflect on our current political climate.( Don’t worry, I’m not gonna go all “pro” this or “anti” that on you.) Not to suggest, for one minute that “Hidden Figures” is a good movie only because of today’s politics – but what I am saying is this. “Hidden Figures” does much more for the viewer, than tell the story of three extraordinary and accomplished “colored” women living in difficult and challenging times!


One scene, I think encapsulates things perfectly. Dorothy (Octavia’s character) and her sons are looking at books in the library. She’s politely told to use the “colored” section. Dorothy kindly responds, indicating that the colored section doesn’t have what she’s looking for. Moments later she on the bus and pulls out a book – her son recognizes that’s it’s from the “white” section. Dorothy explains that as a tax payer, she pays for the library and its books. A nice scene that really references much more than taxes and library books. Incidentally, the book is about computer programming and is key to her career advancement at NASA.


“Hidden Figures” takes us back through our history. It’s about an era of immense political change and discovery. An era full of knowledge, understanding and great leaps in scientific, technological, and social advancement. It’s also solid and well executed entertainment. And that’s the whole point of a great film. Let’s see how it does at the Oscars.