If you were wondering how they would possibly make a movie about math interesting, let me tell you: when people’s lives hinge on getting the math exactly right, then you will also be on the edge of your seat, hoping the problem gets solved in time.
That’s basically the big crux of Hidden Figures: finding the correct equations that will allow NASA to compute the precise trajectory to get a man into space and bring him back again without setting the pod on fire or sending it careening off back into space.
But the math is just the plot. The story itself is about the unsung heroes of NASA, the black women who did the calculations that made the flights possible in the first place. These “colored computers,” as they were called, were some of the most brilliant mathematicians at NASA. Hidden Figures focuses on three in particular: Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn, and Mary Jackson.
Katherine (Taraji P. Henson) is recommended to NASA’s Space Task Group when word comes down that they need someone who’s good with numbers and can handle analytical geometry. She’s one of only two women and the only black person in the Task Group, which results in just a little tension between her and her white colleagues.
Dorothy (Octavia Spencer) is the one who stepped up to take over the supervisory position for the computers when the original supervisor left, although she hasn’t been given the title or the subsequent pay raise despite her dedication and work ethic.
Mary (Janelle Monae) starts as a computer, but decides to pursue an engineering position when a spot opens up, though there are numerous obstacles in her way.
Though the movie focuses more on Katherine, I loved how it showed all the aspects of her life: church, family, and friendship. Yes, she and Dorothy and Mary are all coworkers, but they’re also all friends and they spend time together and support each other outside of NASA. We see them with their kids, their parents, their husbands, and each other, and there’s just something so wonderfully satisfying about it.
Most of the movie centers on John Glenn’s flight and the numerous launches and tests leading up to it, but all three women had decades-long careers at NASA and achieved an astounding amount in their fields. It makes me want to read the book this movie is based on, just so I can get a bigger picture of what all they accomplished, particularly Dorothy and Mary.
I did wish the movie had spend a little more time on them, but really, that would be my only complaint. All three of these women were great, and I wanted to see more of them.
Hidden Figures is wonderful, and it puts a spotlight on three women who, honestly, should have been in it long before now. If you can catch it before it leaves theaters, I would highly encourage you to do so.