Arts & Leisure

“Hidden Figures” has “the right stuff”

"HIDDEN FIGURES" tells the story of the contribution of black women to NASA in the early days of space flight.

“HIDDEN FIGURES” tells the story of the contribution of black women to NASA in the early days of space flight.

By Jim Tortolano

How refreshing it is to watch a movie that makes a point (or two) without hitting you over the head with it. “Hidden Figures” is just such a film, recounting the true story of the contributions of black women to the NASA’s operations in the early Sixties.

The film focuses on three women, portrayed by Taraji Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae, who are low-level number crunchers at a segregated facility in still-Jim Crow Virginia starting in 1961.

LogoforMovieReviewThey bear the double burden of their skin color and their sex in an America yet to see the value of either. Most of the racism depicted in “Figures” is the subtle bias of the educated middle and upper class whites; most of the sexism is embedded more deeply in all strata of society.

Based on the book by Margot Lee Shetterly, this screenplay by Allison Shroeder and Theodore Mefli tells how through sheer grit and skill, the heroines rise from being flunkies to being key elements of the operation which helped the United States win the space race.

Backing them up in his usual phlegmatic way is Kevin Costner as program director Al Harrison, who is more interested in performance than protocol. Jim Parsons parlays his nerd identity from “Big Bang Theory” into a role as the fussy Paul Stafford.

goodmovielogoThere is a side-story romantic tale attached which seems gratuitous, but OK, fine. That’s audience research for you.

All the leading performances are solid and pleasingly underplayed. Credit to director Melfi for that. Although the politics of race and gender certainly are central to the struggle, our heroines are more about getting the job done by the people who can do it best.

Fidelity to duty and American meritocracy. That is – pardon the old pun – “the right stuff” and “Hidden Figures” has it.”

“Hidden Figures” is rated PG for smoking and some profanity.

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