Female characters have had such an impact to me over the course of my film-loving life: as a kid, I love Hermione, Princess Leia and Mulan, teaching me the values of knowledge, courage and self-love; more recently, women like Leslie Knope, Eleven and Carrie Fisher have taught me to stand up for my beliefs, fight for my friends and chase my dreams no matter what. Women in film will always inspire the next generation of girls to be themselves, and this film is certainly one of the most important, reminding young girls that they can reach for the stars and do whatever they want in life.
Hidden Figures is an extraordinary film about a team of female African-American mathematicians taking NASA by storm, as they play an integral role in the space race leading up to the launch of the Friendship 7, the first manned U.S. spacecraft. Hidden Figures tells the story of three very different, but equally brilliant, women of history: Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson) is a brilliant computer selected to check the numbers for NASA’s main flight path team; Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer) is fighting for her talented team to program NASA’s new IBM supercomputer; and Janelle Monae’s Mary Jackson is taking on the education system in order to get her full degree as an engineer.
Director Theodore Melfi’s storytelling is so that our characters are always facing adversary, never able to catch a break from their struggles both at work and at home. As these women challenge their society and everybody around them in order to succeed and make a difference in their workplace, their determination is so inspiring, to always keep going, face every hurdle head on, and work even harder, knowing that what you’re doing is right. And the best part is, they succeed: not through the help of men, but off their own accomplishments and skills, and this is such an important message to young girls watching. Hidden Figures’ underlying message of hope and hard work is an achievement in a film that could have become bogged down in its own message, instead being refreshing and heart-warming, transforming our characters with such relatable complexities and flaws and making them so much more real and human.
Because this is where the film’s strength lies: its characters are all wildly different and layered, lifting each other up in their journey to recognition. These women inspire each other with their work to make themselves work harder, and this type of female friendship that is common in life but uncommon in film is wonderful to see on screen. Their differences help them work together; Katherine is cautious but driven, made such an affective character by Henson, and Mary’s outspokenness and determination to prove herself as an asset is in contrast to Dorothy’s anger at the system, with her quiet moments of strength really showing off Spencer’s range. Katherine’s belittlement at the hands of Jim Parsons’ Paul, and Dorothy’s battle against Kirsten Dunst’s Miss Mitchell for leadership of the IBM program, is just a small representation of the struggles these women had to face, but their ability to fight them together and support each other reminds us of what the word feminism really means: women working together to fight for equality in every space of society. This diverse complexity of women showcased here is so scarce in even the best of movies, and this achievement in Hidden Figures cannot be ignored.
The most important stories are sometimes the least told, and Hidden Figures’ biggest accomplishment is bringing a huge, important part of history to the view of millions. Its brilliant story takes such an inspiring moment in history and sheds light on it, giving us flawed, but ultimately good characters and creating a tale bursting with hope. Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn and Mary Jackson are about to become inspirations for young girls everywhere, and I’m sure there’ll be many more strong female characters to come.
Here’s my list of my top five favourite films and TV shows starring the brilliant cast of Hidden Figures:
- The Help – Octavia Spencer
- Moonlight – Janelle Monae and Mahershala Ali
- Spider-Man 2 – Kirsten Dunst
- House – Taraji P. Henson
- Zootopia – Octavia Spencer
Photos taken from IMDb.com: