A crucial episode of the 1960s, centered on both the space race and the civil-rights struggle, comes to light in Hidden Figures, an energetic and impassioned drama. It’s the true story of three black women from Virginia who, soon after Sputnik shocked the world, are hired by NASA, where they do indispensable work in a segregated workplace.
Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe), endowed with engineering talent, has been kept out of the profession by racial barriers; Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) heads the office of ‘computers’ or gifted mathematicians, but can’t be promoted, owing to her race; and the most gifted of calculators, Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), is recruited for the main NASA rocket-science centre, where, as the only black employee, she endures relentless insults and indignities.
Director Theodore Melfi evokes the women’s professional conflicts while filling in the vitality of their private lives. The film also highlights, in illuminating detail, the baked-in assumptions of everyday racism which, regardless of changes in law, ring infuriatingly true today. With Kevin Costner, as Katherine’s principled boss; Mahershala Ali, as her suitor; and Glen Powell, as John Glenn, a hero in space and on the ground.
– Richard Brody, The New Yorker