Review: Hidden Figures (2016)

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Last year, the Academy was boycotted by thousands for its lack of diversity. A lot of people expressed their disappointment for the absence of coloured actors from the Oscars nominations. It seems that the Academy have learned their lesson. This year all four acting categories feature colored actors/actresses names and three films featuring colored main characters are among the Best Picture contenders. One of them, Hidden Figures, showcases perfectly what discrimination and racism feels like by presenting the struggles that coloured women had to face in a white-men-driven America during the early 60s.

Three brilliant coloured women – Katherine (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy (Octavia Spencer) and Mary (Janelle Monáe) – manage to get a job in NASA. Shamefully enough, almost one century after the end of Civil War, segregation hasn’t ceased. The situation for these three women and every other woman of their ethnic group is, at the very least, derogatory. They are not allowed to go to white people’s toilets, they get much fewer opportunities and Katherine cannot even use the same coffee pot as her colleagues. As these weren’t enough, the pressure and work load they have to face in NASA is huge. The year is 1961 and the space race between the Soviet Union and the United States is more intense than ever. Things get even worse when news of Russia sending the first man into space reach the world. However, we’re not talking about any women. Katherine, Dorothy and Mary are determined to overcome any difficulties and show the world what they are made of.

The film tells a story that most of us were unaware of. We’ve seen dozens of American films that take place in the early 60s. There are films about the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Vietnam War, Elvis Presley, the British Invasion bands, and so many other topics. However, we rarely see a film that focuses on people of those days and especially the racial minorities. Among all that technological advancement, humanity was cast aside. It was 1961 and people of colour were still treated as lesser beings. Hidden Figures recounts the events in a particularly touching way. While speaking of the huge achievements of NASA in the space race, it subtly emphasizes on the effort of the people who were responsible for them and particularly the three women who set an example for thousands of others. The cast delivered an amazing performance and the result was an emotional and didactic story that pays true homage to the real people.

Of course, the film has its drawbacks. It suffers from a defect found in many biographical films. They tend to glamorize their characters to the extent of portraying them as infallible supporting them with minor characters who by now have become too cliché. Katherine, Mary and Dorothy have absolutely no faults whereas Kirsten Dunst and Jim Parson’s characters are unlikable from the very first moment. By the time the happy ending comes, everyone’s problems seem to have disappeared and the main characters are now loved by everyone. This is the reason I rarely find a biographical film to amaze me. Apart from that though, every aspect of the film was masterfully dealt with. In general, it makes for a great and quite informative viewing.

7/10