I can safely say that before Hidden Figures, I’d never once seen a movie that received two separate rounds of applause at the end. Without a doubt, this is a crowd pleaser.
And fortunately, that’s far from all it is.
Hidden Figures tells the stories of three black women working for NASA in the early 1960s, at the height of the space race. Three women who happen to be the very, very best at what they do. We meet Katherine Goble, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Johnson, who rise to become not just integral to the effort to send a man into space, but invaluable, as master mathematicians, computer programmers, and engineers who are directly responsible for the work and calculations that lead to John Glenn’s historic orbit.
The title, Hidden Figures, is hardly just a clever play on words, as these women are hidden in almost every sense—confined to the basement of an old NASA building half a mile away from where any of the real action is, not allowed to put their names on reports containing their own groundbreaking work. It’s not surprising, given the times, but the large and small indignities the women are forced to endure as not just women in a man’s world, but as black women in a white man’s world, only make their resolve and achievements that much more powerful. A prolonged experience involving Katherine’s necessity to use the only “colored” bathroom on the NASA campus is particularly upsetting, but it’s just one of many such offenses.
Thankfully for all of us, the women refuse to stay hidden, at least to their colleagues. Their intelligence and abilities cannot be ignored by those in power at NASA, and over time they make themselves as necessary as any of the astronauts destined to go into space. Still, many, many people who lived through these times and remember many of the details of Glenn’s flight have, until now, had no idea these women ever existed, let alone the massive impact they had on the course of our country’s history. Now, finally, their story is told.