Hidden Figures (2016)

(On Cable TV, September 2017) While I’m convinced that revisionist works such as Hidden Figures are essential in making full sense of history (which doesn’t rely solely on the majority-status figureheads, but also the unnamed masses actually doing the work), I can’t get rid of a feeling of annoyance when the fiction proves to be more revolting than the reality. I am, of course, showing my white privilege when I point out that Hidden Figures manipulates historical facts to make life seem even more terrible for its black female protagonists. (The entire washroom subplot, as infuriating as it is, never happened in real life.)  Still, there is a lot to like in what Hidden Figures actually does. “Coloured computers” packs so much wrongness in two words that it’s almost a relief to see a movie sidestep the heroics of The Right Stuff to show who was behind much of the mathematical grunt work. It helps that Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe make great heroines, and that capable white actors such as Kevin Costner and Kirsten Dunst are (for once!) relegated to support roles. (Meanwhile, there’s Jim Parsons being Jim Parsons—for all of the acclaim that he’s gotten for Sheldon Cooper, the more I see him in other venues the more I’m seeing him in the same role.)  The historical recreation of NASA’s early days (dramatic inaccuracies aside) is also impressive, and Hidden Figures more than finds its way alongside The Right Stuff and Apollo 13 as essential movies for space program enthusiasts. Which makes the inaccuracies worse, in a way—I’d settled for a less dramatic film if it meant a more accurate one: it’s not as if the basic story wasn’t inspiring enough…

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