If Hidden Figures has anything to do with it, the way that the early history of NASA is taught will change. The people mentioned in the title—the hidden figures themselves—were the African-American women who had a lot to do with the program’s success. Focusing in on three of these incredible women, the film does an excellent job of educating the public about the people who were actually in the room figuring out how to get a man to Mars. As it turns out, many of them were black females.
In the role of Katherine Johnson, Taraji P. Henson gets to play a character that is completely unlike the TV role for which she is so well-known. As a math genius who is attempting to do what no woman has done before her, this actress truly shines. Playing every emotion in the book, Henson truly transforms herself as this character. With a singular focus of helping the team get a man into orbit, Henson’s character is charged with facing challenges that none of the other characters have to overcome.
Octavia Spencer’s performance as Dorothy Vaughan also stands out, allowing us to see her character’s true brilliance with computers. As one of the first people in the country to begin programming, Vaughan also holds a formidable place in history.
Janelle Monae’s turn as Mary Jackson reminds us that some people have to be bold in order to become the first at whatever it is they do. Her astonishing life trajectory—as one of the engineers who worked on the actual spacecraft—is perfect for the silver screen.
Although the achievements of these three NASA pioneers have not been mentioned often, perhaps the popularity of this film will help to change that.