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Hidden Figures: style and grace in the race for space

25 Feb 2017

Hidden Figures is a monumental, feel good movie that will be replayed for decades to come. It depicts the trials of three phenomenal African-American women, Katherine Johnson (Taraji P Henson), Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae). The trio ensured that NASA was able to achieve glory during the decade of the “race for space” and that astronaut John Glenn could be successfully launched into space. Following last years #OscarsSoWhite campaign, this film provides a rare opportunity for black actors to dazzle, playing historic characters.

Henson does a magnificent job displaying the facets to Johnson’s life, including being a mother and lover whilst still focusing on her pioneering spirit as a “computer” working at NASA.  Monae has such a huge off-screen personality that I was unsure if I would be able to truly envisage her as the first Africa-American NASA engineer, Mary Jackson, but I should never have doubted her. Spencer brings a motherly, self-assurance to the role of Dorothy Vaughn providing her friends with strong leadership as their supervisor. They possess the true spirit of any close female, friendship trio. From now on, I may refer to any amazing, trio as ‘Johnson, Vaughn and Jackson’.

The power of this movie lies in the true life story where three formidably intelligent black women achieve their goals, despite all the odds, during segregation in 1950s America. Hidden Figures could not have been released at a more important time for black people in the US, as they increasingly feel that their lives and livelihoods are under threat. A poignant moment occurs when the head of the NASA Space Task Group, Al Harrison, played by a surly Kevin Costner, takes a crowbar and hammers down the sign for the coloured bathroom. It’s quite something seeing the man who played Whitney’s bodyguard in Bodyguard flip the bird to segregation.

Katherine Johnson is whisked off her feet by Colonel Jim Johnson, played by Mahershala Ali who has had quite the year by anyone’s standard. I had this sense of foreboding the entire movie that some awful incident would befall their relationship, which is testimony to how rare it is to witness successful, black love on screen.

Hidden Figures is food for the soul particularly for a young, black woman like me who is desperately seeking an uplifting piece of #BlackGirlMagic as we face up to Trump’s scary vision for America. Hidden Figures demonstrates that although America’s history is wrought with violence and oppression, true excellence has continued to emerge. The real Katherine Johnson was awarded the Presidential Medal by Barack Obama in 2015 at the staggering age of ninety-six. I can only hope that I am still slaying at ninety-six.

Previously, I have written of my own obstacles in becoming a black female doctor and Hidden Figures has given me new aspirations. Since the film’s release, young women of colour have been inspired to dress up as this intelligent trio. I feel hopeful that this movie will continue to inspire young girls from all walks of life for a number of years. The team behind Hidden Figures can breathe a sigh of relief as they have tackled a monumental time in history with style and grace, giving heroines their moment to shine.