This week I review HIDDEN FIGURES. HIDDEN FIGURES is the true story of three African-American women in the 60s who work at NASA and their successful, historic rise through the ranks as they break barriers of race and gender. Taraji P. Henson (EMPIRE, HUSTLE AND FLOW) plays Katherine Johnson, Octavia Spencer (THE HELP) plays Dorothy Voughn and Janelle Monae plays Mary Jackson. Kevin Costner, Jim Parsons (THE BIG BANG THEORY), Kirsten Dunst and Mahershala Ali (MOONLIGHT) also star.
One of the difficulties inherent in making a true-story period piece that focuses on a hard time in history is showing the hurdles the real-life counterparts went through without balancing it with the good in life, too. Or, on the flip side, glossing over the difficulties so much that what the women had to overcome starts to seem easy. HIDDEN FIGURES manages to strike the perfect balance.
There are two particular lines in HIDDEN FIGURES that reference space as an analogy rather than a location. At the beginning of the movie in present day 1962, Katherine, Dorothy and Mary are stranded by the side of the road with car trouble on their way to work. There’s a great line “don’t stare into space” which serves a dual purpose of saying to pay attention, but also as a deeper analogy of not aspiring to do or be more than the 60s typically allowed of African-American women. The second line about space comes when Katherine’s three daughters fight over which of them will sleep alone as there are only two beds.
There were also two scenes with people looking up into space. One is at the beginning when the women look up with the police officer who stops to help them. The officer talks about being watched by Russia and they all stare upwards in a moment of contemplation. It not only reflects how space travel will affect them, but how limitless—or limited—they may all feel. Later, Dorothy sees a series of people standing by cars looking into space as they watch for John Glenn. It recalls that earlier scene and how things have changed.
Another direct reference to an earlier scene is when Katherine’s school teacher hands her a piece of chalk to work a mathematical equation on the board. In that shot, the teacher’s hand seems almost larger than life and Katherine’s small size is emphasized. Later, Katherine’s handed another piece of chalk and her hand is equal in size. So, another direct reference to her growth and evolution. HIDDEN FIGURES uses the repetition of these scenes to recall earlier moments and the changes that have taken place over time.
Costume designer Renee Ehrlich Kalfus says Katherine’s costumes mirrored her journey from timid to confident mathematician and if you watch her clothing evolve you’ll see how it allows her to stand out more among the uniformly-attired men.
For more about themes in HIDDEN FIGURES as well as behind-the-scenes info about the design of one of the NASA office buildings, take a look below…
—>Looking for the direct link to the video? Click here.