"Without these women there may never have been a man on the moon."
â€śBased on a True Storyâ€ť is one of those sketchy lead-ins that grace too many movies which: most often they feature stories based on a kernel of truth that is so thoroughly embellished upon that the final product is indistinguishable from fiction. Hidden Messages proves to be an exception to the rule.With Sputnik in 1957, and Yuri Gagarin in 1961, the Soviet Union laid claim to both the first satellite and human in space and the US getting thoroughly spanked in the Space Race. A week after Gagarin's historic flight President Kennedy approached Congress with his audacious plan to land a man on the moon, an undertaking that would require tens of billions of dollars and millions of man hours. But first they had to get a man into orbit, no small feat in itself, and one that the Space Task Group took very seriously.
Stuck in neutral, Al Harrison (Kevin Costner) the group lead taps Katherine (Taraji P. Henson) a math wunderkind being wasted in the human computer section, to help crunch the reams of data theyâ€™re struggling with. In spite of her gifts and invaluable contributions, Katherine quickly learns that even the frontiers of math arenâ€™t color blind, and just going to the bathroom can prove to be a challenge. Her co-workers, Mary (Janelle Monae) with visions of becoming an engineer is stymied by segregation laws that forbid her from attending classes with white peers and Dorothy (Octavia Spencer) a supervisor who can't be promoted to supervisor because no one of color ever has been, share in her struggle.
Hidden Figures could easily have been a depressing film bogged down by heavy subject matter, and although institutionalized racism is repeatedly and clearly acknowledged (they make use of literal running gag to drive the point home), the writers opted to focus on the leads' efforts to surpass their obstacles. And with such a wonderful cast carrying the story itâ€™s impossible not to get caught up in the optimism.
Janelle Monae exudes sass as the free-spirited and opinionated Mary, while Octavia Spencer is resolute as the put upon Dorothy, handling the disrespect of her uptight white supervisor (Kirsten Dunst) with steely dignity. Although initially subdued, Taraji P. Henson imbues Katherine with a refined grace, optimism and determination that are simply infectious and will likely earn her another Oscar nom. Rounding out the ensemble are Jim Parsons, a straight man Sheldon who serves as Katherine's prickly foil, and Kevin Costner who nails his results-driven leader (you can be sure if you looked at pictures of the era, youâ€™d see his bespectacled brushcut doppleganger).Hidden Figures is educational, engaging and entertaining and provides long overdue credit to the women who helped make the American Space Program a success.