Saturday, January 14, 2017

Hidden Figures

I had another Howard County political piece half written but I decided to put it aside in favor of a movie review.  Yes, you read that correctly.

The film in question was a special screening of “Hidden Figures,” which was hosted by the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority (Iota Lambda Omega Chapter), to whom this author wishes to express his gratitude for putting on an excellent event.

The movie is based on a true story and was the subject of the book, “Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race” (by Margot Lee Shetterly).

First, the film was outstanding and I strongly recommend it.  Taraji P. Henson turned in a superb, multi-dimensional performance as the lead while Octavia Spencer was excellent in a supporting role.

There was a line uttered by Kevin Costner’s character, which was similar to the adage, “history is written by the winners.”  Although the United States won the Space Race…and the Cold War… it is appalling that many of the “winners” nonetheless failed to recognize for so long the talent that was so critical to America’s victories.  Although the general tonality of the film was intended to be uplifting, the moral failure of Jim Crow is a constant presence.  Frankly, bearing in mind the time and place, the antagonists were perhaps too subtle in their projection of racism.  I did not read the book so I can’t speak to the real-life experiences of the three women portrayed on screen, but I felt as though the director and producers wanted to downplay the protagonists' struggles in an effort to focus the overall narrative on a more optimistic arc.          

We view movies, in part, through the lens of the times.  Perhaps the feel-good elements serve as a reminder of America as it could be; that progress, even in the face of hatred and hardships, is the natural direction of human-kind.  I can’t speak for anyone else in the theatre, but I know my faith in this principle has been shaken by the events in the United States over the past several months.  When our “leaders” opt for vitriol and division instead of appealing to our better angels, one wonders are we, as a nation, stalled…or going backwards?  It is deeply saddening to believe that the grandchildren of trailblazers such as Katherine Goble Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn, and Mary Jackson may need to re-fight the old struggles in our “post-racial” America in order to avoid becoming “hidden figures” themselves.  Will future doors be slammed in their faces for the same reasons?  Where is our perfecting impulse?

Anyway, that is all for today.  Go see the movie.

Stay tuned, as more will follow.




  1. Thanks for the departure from the ordinary. Best to keep us on our toes. I've not seen the film but I know how we often sanitize history in our popularizing a story. In this case, I'm glad the story was told.