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‘Hidden Figures’ commands the box office with its casting, visuals and lessons

‘Hidden Figures’ commands the box office with its casting, visuals and lessons

By Brianna Cummings

Section: Arts, Etc., Featured

February 10, 2017

One of the most talked about movies in theaters right now is “Hidden Figures.” The movie is relevant for several reasons: The plot revolves around the important topics of racism and, to a lesser degree, sexism; it was number one at the box office for two weeks in a row; it has been nominated for numerous awards, including three Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress for Octavia Spencer.

The movie is about Katherine Goble (Taraji P. Henson), a mathematician who works for NASA with her friends Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae). The women learn how to handle their fast-paced careers and how to overcome the prejudice they receive from their colleagues and the rest of society.

While the movie has been called a “feel-good” film because of its empowering and strong protagonists, there are many scenes that are sad and help the audience empathize with the characters’ struggles. When Katherine is placed in the Space Task Group for her special abilities, she is forced to run back and forth to the colored section of NASA just so she can use the bathrooms. Her co-workers also make her drink from a coffee pot labeled “colored.” The employee who is the ringleader of this abuse is Paul Stafford (Jim Parson), who constantly tries to undermine Katherine’s intelligence solely because of her race and gender. The only people who treat her decently are her boss Al Harrison (Kevin Costner) and John Glenn (Glenn Powell). After a heartbreaking scene where Katherine explains the abuse she has received, Al knocks down the sign on the “colored” bathroom and rips the “colored” label off the coffee pot. In reference to the former, he says, “Here at NASA, we all pee the same color.” Some have said that Costner’s character in the movie is a “white savior,” but I disagree; I think it is important to show that not all white people in this time period thought backwardly. Costner’s character still demonstrates some of the same flaws as the other white co-workers, because it takes him a long time to stand up for Katherine, and the film includes scenes where he talks to all his workers and says things that exclude Katherine based on her gender, like “Call your wives and tell them you will be home late.”

The other black women portrayed in the film endure similar discrimination. Despite her qualifications, NASA refuses to promote Dorothy to supervisor. She must beg and answer to Vivian Mitchell (Kirsten Dunst), who serves as her condescending supervisor. In the end, once Dorothy gets her well-deserved promotion, Vivian says to her, “Despite what you may think, I have nothing against y’all,” to which Dorothy replies, “I know you probably believe that.” Mary wants to become an engineer, but the only way to do that is to take classes at a segregated school, which she needs permission from the courts to do.

Although every actor gave a great performance in the film, the best performances were from Henson and Monae. Seeing Henson, who is known for playing bold and confident women (such as Cookie Lyons on the hit show “Empire”), give a believable performance as the quiet and nerdy Katherine was interesting. Monae was also a scene-stealer as Jackson, a sassy and cynical character who added a nice flavor to the film. While Spencer was nominated for Best Supporting Actress, I believe Monae gave a better and more memorable performance. Spencer is a good actress, but her role was bland and forgettable. After watching the film, I remember Costner’s character more than Spencer’s. Spencer may have been favored over Monae because she is a more seasoned actress and has already won an Academy Award for her amazing performance in “The Help” (2011).

The film’s music, most notably by Pharrell Williams, Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch, was peppy and added a positive vibe to the movie. In comical scenes or montages, the bouncy tunes made it hard for one to resist snapping their figures. In emotional or high-tension scenes, the music drew the audience in more. Williams, Wallfisch and Zimmer were nominated for the Golden Globes for Best Original Score, but lost to Justin Hurwitz for “La La Land.”

“Hidden Figures” is visually stunning. The outfits and makeup of the three female protagonists make it seem like the actresses just popped out of a time machine from the early 60s. The red lipstick and colorful dresses gave off a classic feel, but were still trendy enough for a modern audience to admire. Since the movie focuses more on character and less on action, there was not an overload of CGI, but it looked good when it was used, especially in one scene involving an accident with astronaut Gus Grissom.

Overall, “Hidden Figures” was an amazing film with a good lesson, and I will definitely root for it on Oscar night.

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