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Hidden Figures

An inspiring true story buoyed by three infectious performances.
By Sarah Ward
February 16, 2017
By Sarah Ward
February 16, 2017

UPDATE, March 8, 2021: Hidden Figures is available to stream via Disney+, Foxtel Now, Google Play, YouTube Movies and Amazon Video.


Every parent tells their child to dream big. Unfortunately, for many people, a world of factors conspires to stop their hopes and aspirations from coming true. For the three women at the centre of Hidden Figures, the forces blocking them from fulfilling their potential aren't just obvious — they're quantifiable. Faced with both institutionalised sexism and institutionalised racism, friends Katherine (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy (Octavia Spencer) and Mary (Janelle Monáe) know exactly what's holding them back. But, as smart, savvy human computers at NASA's Virginia headquarters in the segregated 1960s, they're also driven to find a solution.

Based on a real-life tale that most won't have heard before, and sending its spirited leading ladies on a fight for equality, Hidden Figures is exactly the kind of movie that you think it is. It's warm, broad and certain to please. It's designed to rouse and entertain as it sheds light on an overlooked part of history, with soft colours and an upbeat soundtrack. It brings together an engaging cast who prove endearing individually and even more so when their affectionate rapport is in the spotlight. Most of all, though, it combines all of the expected elements together just as anyone could easily predict, and still manages to be a thoroughly good watch.

Katherine, Dorothy and Mary crunch numbers in the same department, share rides to work and spend time together with their families after hours, but it's ambition in the face of oppression that truly unites them. On any given day, they're expected to be grateful for their jobs, while constantly being underestimated, undermined, ignored, overlooked, and made to use separate bathrooms and even coffee pots. That's a struggle, especially in a place that wants to defy the accepted order by putting a man on the moon. Each of the three have their own goals: Katherine wants credit for her crucial efforts when she's moved into the team trying to send an American beyond the earth; Dorothy seeks the supervisor title and pay raise that goes with the tasks she's already doing; and Mary is trying to take the classes she needs — at a white's-only school — to become an engineer.

There's not much surprising about the way that writer-director Theodore Melfi (St. Vincent) brings Margot Lee Shetterly's non-fiction book to the screen, but honestly that's fine. In fact, it's rather apt. It's the sparkling individual components that comprise the ideal equation here, rather than any attempt to craft a new formula. Besides, just the fact that this story is being told at all is kind of revolutionary. Space movies and films about maths geniuses are a dime a dozen, but they're usually about one type of person: white men. Not here.

A few pop up — Kevin Costner is memorable as Katherine's boss, while Big Bang Theory's Jim Parsons plays the colleague constantly putting her in her place — but, refreshingly, this isn't their movie. Instead, it belongs to the women of colour at its centre. Played with vibrancy that matches the feature's own mood, there's nothing hidden about the core trio of black female mathematicians. Their real-world determination, infectious spirit, and the fine performances behind them, ensures that Hidden Figures adds up to something really special.

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