Hidden Figures (2016)

After waiting for it to become available on Netflix, Bob and I watched Hidden Figures with much anticipation.

The synopsis

Three brilliant African-American women at NASA—Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe)—serve as the brains behind one of the greatest operations in history: the launch of astronaut John Glenn (Glen Powell) into orbit, a stunning achievement that restored the nation’s confidence, turned around the Space Race and galvanized the world.

The trailer

My thoughts and observations

  1. As much as I wanted to love this movie, the main thing that kept me from doing so revolves around the reason I really don’t care for mainstream movies most of the time. There are two main factors:

    • In an effort to make a story “entertaining,” it is usually overly dramatized at the expense of the narrative.

    • The forgone conclusion that it will have a happy ending makes it painfully predictable.


    Example of a: I know Katherine Johnson didn’t run back and forth to that “Colored Ladies Room” in the other building in the way that it was depicted in this movie.

    Example of b: When Katherine Johnson screamed at all of her colleagues mentioning that no one will even drink coffee from the same pot that she does, I said to Bob, “At the end of the movie, Paul Stafford is going to bring her a cup of coffee.” And that’s exactly what happened.

  2. Another thing that kept me from enjoying this movie as much as I would have liked to is that it just highlights how history is written (and taught), and while I’m grateful that stories like this come along to enlighten us, it frustrates me knowing that history is not getting “re-written” to include these newly-brought-to-light stories for future generations.
  3. Throughout this movie, I wondered if Katherine Johnson was really able to calculate as fast as she did or if it was just another dramatization. It’s not that I doubt she could have, my point is that I can’t be sure precisely because of the oft-used dramatization.
  4. Likewise, I have 0-to-10% confidence that Al Harrison actually knocked down that sign with an axe.
  5. Speaking of the Al Harrison character, it took me several scenes before I realized that it was Kevin Costner playing him, which is not an indictment on the film, but an observation of myself.
  6. As actresses, I love Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monáe.
  7. I really liked how at the end they showed pictures of of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson with updates of their respective lives.
  8. Bob noticed an anachronism at the very beginning of the movie, when a character noted it was 1961 and shortly after that a cop drove up in a 1964 Ford Galaxie.
  9. The Wikipedia entry for this movie notes these “technical deficiencies,” which I also found interesting, although they didn’t bother me at all, since I’m not a scientist:
    • The re-entry burn is described as moving the capsule from an elliptical orbit to a parabolic descent path. To the approximation in which the original orbit is an ellipse, this is wrong: also, the descent path is an elliptical arc. It appears that this mistake is also present in the book.
    • In one of the Redstone suborbital-jump sequences, footage slipped in of the separation of an Atlas booster ring.
    • Glenn’s launch is seen straight from the Atlas booster-ring separation to the weightlessness of space, cutting out the remaining sustainer burn.
    • It is said that Glenn was cleared for seven orbits, but this was cut short to three due to the heat-shield issue. This is a widespread misconception.[42]

In spite of not loving this movie as much as I wanted to, I did find it informative, and I’m very glad that these heroes and role models from the space race era are now alive in the hearts and minds of those who saw the movie or read the book.

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