XXY Reviews: Hidden Figures by Theodore Melfi

XXY Reviews: Hidden Figures by Theodore Melfi

Hidden Figures ticks all the boxes. Struggles against discrimination? Check. Female empowerment? Check. Overcoming the hard-nosed colleagues who didn’t believe in you? Roger that. The film, based on true events, tells the story of a group of African-American female mathematicians who had a pivotal role in the US space program’s early years. It is a brilliant premise that both entertains and enlightens us on an important period in history. Yet it all seems a bit Hollywood. There’s a lot right with it, granted. The acting is superb. The soundtrack is uplifting and downbeat in the right moments. The scenery and costumes do justice to the time in which it’s set. But it is too neatly packaged, leaving the film with an inspiring but ultimately predictable feel.

The opening scene in which our three leading characters, Katherine, Dorothy and Mary, break down in their stylish Chevy Impala, sets the tone for this film’s journey. Dorothy is underneath the car, wrench in hand. Girl power. Katherine and Mary scatter out of the car when a white policeman accosts them. It’s a clear commentary on racial tension. But any anger is quickly dissipated when the women reveal they work for NASA. Now they are being escorted by the cop, following after him at high speed, laughing and cheering. This feel-good moment casts these women into the spotlight and we’re already rooting for them. But it seems quite simplified. If only other issues could be settled this quickly.

Hidden Figures

Taraji P. Henson as Katherine Johnson takes the lead in Hidden Figures, though equal kudos should be given to Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe for their performances. In one memorable scene, Monáe as Mary makes a heartfelt speech about enrolling in night classes to facilitate her engineering career.  Thus far she has been prevented because of the colour of her skin. It is a touching moment and I dare you not to feel a lump in your throat. Octavia Spencer’s Dorothy also faces her own challenges up against a sharp Kirsten Dunst as her superior who refuses to promote her. There is no unnecessary drama in the acting here; hers is a subtle portrayal that oozes frustration and is a poignant reminder of the barriers these women had to overcome.

Henson steals the show in scenes when her character dashes miles away to a separate ‘coloured bathroom’. With Pharrell’s upbeat soundtrack playing in the background, her squirming and leg twitching make these moments comical. But when it all gets a bit too Laurel and Hardy, what’s really at stake is a lot more serious. This finally comes to a head in another compelling speech when Katherine is asked why she is absent from her desk for so long. Kevin Costner is nicely cast as the boss who confronts her. His crew cut and thick rimmed glasses reflect the chic American 60s, though his character has a very predictable story arc. His right-hand man, played by Jim Parsons, was also a gratuitous addition to the script. This overly villainous role simply threatened to undermine the integrity of some scenes.

That said, Hidden Figures is an entertaining watch. It informs us on the past and places three wonderful actresses at the forefront of our screens. The heart of the story really lies in the women’s speeches. However, it just seems a shame the film felt it had to conform to a particular narrative. Within the first five minutes, you know what you’re in for. But hey, if you’re OK with that, sit back, relax and enjoy. With that in mind, you won’t be disappointed.


Written by Georgina Grier,


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