With the 89th Academy Awards on the horizon, we at ing Magazine went out to watch and review Hidden Figures, one of the films up to win an Oscar in 2017 for Best Motion Picture alongside other notable works such as Moonlight, La La Land and Fences.
The film’s presence in this year’s nominations holds great significance considering the climate of last year’s event. #OscarsSoWhite was the theme that dominated the show; actors, artists and directors including Jada Pinkett Smith, Will Smith and Spike Lee boycotted the night due to the lack of diversity in the nominations.
This year is slightly different. Seven people of color are nominated, and several films in the mix focus on the experiences of minorities. Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures), Viola Davis (Fences) and Naomie Harris (Moonlight) are all nominated for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role; Mahershala Ali (Moonlight) and Dev Patel (Lion) for Best Actor In A Supporting Role; Denzel Washington (Fences) for Best Actor In A Leading Role; and Ruth Negga (Loving) for Best Actress In A Leading Role.
Hidden Figures, the story of three black women who helped send the first American into space, forces us to ask an important question: why are we just learning these women’s names? Just as Hollywood struggles to represent universal experiences, so do our history books. Hidden Figures uncovers the lives of these wicked-smart women who faced both racism and sexism in the 1960s — and their important aeronautical discoveries and impact at NASA.
As the U.S. and the Soviet Union go head to head in the Space Race, the three women all face their own sets of unique challenges; discrimination is at the heart of each. Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer) is the acting supervisor for the women of color mathematicians, but without the title and pay. Tensions rise between her and Vivian Michael (Kirsten Dunst), the supervisor of the white women mathematicians, as Dorothy continues to fight for the role she deserves. However, she won’t leave her girls behind. The proactive Dorothy ensures her team is irreplaceable when the new IBM computer threatens the jobs of the women who have been crunching the numbers.
Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) is bright, beautiful and spunky. She is eager to apply for an open engineering position, but is told via the fine print that she doesn’t meet all the requirements. The high school she needs to attend to take additional classes at? Brown vs. board didn’t mean much to it — the school is still segregated. Mary takes her case to court, and well, let’s just say she makes a compelling argument about “firsts.”
Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson) is assigned to check the work of the lead engineer (Jim Parsons) who feels threatened by her presence. In addition to his pushback, her reliability is continuously questioned whenever she leaves to go to the bathroom, as she must run in her heels and long skirt a half a mile to the west wing to use the colored bathroom. This leads to the powerful scene when Al Harrison (Kevin Costner) peels off the “colored” sticker on Katherine’s coffee pot and takes a sledgehammer to the colored sign above the bathroom she runs to several times a day. “We all pee the same color,” he shouts as he walks away.
Our history books do tell us about John Glenn. Played by Glen Powell, Hidden Figures is as much a testament to his courage, compassion and faith in what he knows is right — and in the end, it’s his trust in Katherine that makes the mission a success.
Hidden Figures, even with its overzealous Hollywood moments, is a compelling and inspiring historical drama that tells the important, yet neglected, story of three American heroines. You don’t want to miss this extraordinary performance by Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe, so go see it (in theaters now) and watch the Oscars this Sunday to see if it takes home the coveted prize for Best Motion Picture.
Emily Reyst is a senior majoring in professional writing. Outside of writing for ing, she interns for the Broad College of Business Marketing team and the Women’s Center of Greater Lansing. She was once hit by an airborne pizza box while driving her moped. Follow her on social media for updates in real time. Twitter: @accio_avocado Instagram: emilyreyst