Last year I reviewed one of the first trailers to be released for the upcoming feature based on the true stories of three pivotal women working within the maelstrom of the Space Race. I suggested that the trailer promised a film that would at once make us think, make us reflect, make us smile, make us remember, and make us look to the future. This month, having seen the film at my local cinema, I can say that as the credits rolled I felt an overwhelming sense of Something. It was one of those instances where you can’t quite put your finger on one particular emotion, but you know that your entire being has been filled with Something for being witness to an act, a film, a reading, anything that makes you sit back and think.
Poster accessed © imdb.com
The narrative follows the trials, tribulations and ultimate successes of Katherine Johnson (Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Monáe). The ladies are a trio of fortitude against a tide of misfortune, and though acceptance is almost always out of reach, it never stops them from trying.
This is a quiet film, and it is that quiet which made key moments in the feature roar. The story unfolds at a contradictory languid haste. Oxymoronic as that might seem, logic would tell us that though time flies during the course of the film, the pace lags as the audience witnesses setback, after setback, after setback. Each minor victory is cause for celebration, and I actively cheered when any of the three central ladies broke through the many quagmires restraining them from achieving the potential everyone in the cinema knew they could achieve. However, these victories are hard fought for, tooth and claw, and every time we saw Johnson, Vaughan or Jackson slapped back by an intolerant and ignorant society it made me cringe in my seat. I suppose that’s what made the steps forward seem all the greater when they happened.
It is hard to select one sequence from the film which stood out to me as The Scene (though the sequence featuring the policeman and a high-speed pursuit stands out for many reasons), there are so many stellar moments that it’s impossible to isolate just one. What I can focus on are some of the cinematographic aesthetics. The cinematography in this film is beautiful: whether the camera pans across a hive of activity in the central Control Room as the engineers, data analysts and supervisors prepare to launch a man into space, or captures the introspective moment of a lone spark of colourful vividity against a grey white-wash of stone coloured corridors. Every detail is presented for our inspection, but our eyes never waiver from the true focus of each shot.
The retrovisual nature of the film is also aptly captured through choice costuming, the vast array of 1950s and 1960s cars which positively scream “Grease”, or the music which often accompanies the action (diegetically or no): what is pleasing to note that nothing jars in the aesthetics of the film, it never seems false. To look at the screen is to feel a part of the environment, immersed in the warm tones of the 1960s design or enveloped by the clinical enormity of the office spaces of Langley HQ. Looking at one sequence from the film, shot primarily in Vaughan’s kitchen, I was instantly reminded of my grandmother’s kitchen: wooden cabinets, yellow tones in the decorating, even the kitchen appliances held visual authenticity.
Still from ©imdb.com
What can be taken away from this film? As a caucasian Brit, I can say without a doubt that leaving the screening I was aware and grateful for the lucky happenstance of my birth. As a young woman in the twentyfirst century, I was conscious of the privilege of my education and the ability to boost my academic career without the need to fight for my right to expand my prospects. I will never have to experience the struggle that others may encounter in their lifetimes purely for the colour of their skin or their accent. For all of this, I was grateful. We have made a lot of progress regarding the celebration of diversity, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t continue to strive for universal acceptance. Afterall, it is only by looking back that we see mistakes we must learn from.
There are times in this film which makes the audience laugh (I think everyone can remember a situation where some friends have attempted to “help” another find romance), makes us swell with pride (Costner’s Al Harrison provides a sterling example of interracial acceptance at the midway point in the film), or makes us hold our breath while we try to distance ourselves from the indescribable injustices we see unfolding onscreen. Mixed together, the narrative of Hidden Figures made this film a work of art for all to see because it gave everyone something to ponder as the film played.