Hidden Figures movie review: a vibrant celebration of black women

hidden figures movie review poster

Theodore Melfi’s Hidden Figures tells the jubilant story of three African American women who made it possible for the US to put John Glenn into space.The film is unrelenting in its optimism, and its joy is so infectious it could creep into the coldest of hearts.

Based on the book of the same name, Hidden Figures details how Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) defied the odds stacked against black women in 1960s America and became vital parts of NASA’s team.

A major reason the film is so joyous is its cast. Taraji P. Henson slips into her role with such ease and familiarity it takes all of 30 seconds to be rooting for Katherine Johnson as if she were your closest friend. And when Henson, Spencer and Monáe are together, it is near impossible to keep from smiling. Their characters’ love for one another is unwavering. Not a single moment of conflict exists between them the entire film — that’s a big feat for women in Hollywood.

Hidden Figures details how three black women defied the odds in 1960s America and became vital parts of NASA’s team

Not only are the performances vibrant, but the visuals are too. Melfi’s use of colour looks how eating an orange ice lolly on the beach in the middle of summer feels. It’s a breath of fresh air in a market dominated by monochromes. Thanks also in part to its upbeat soundtrack, you leave the cinema feeling energised and ready to take on the world.

Most importantly, Hidden Figures is a celebration of black women. It’s no coincidence that the colour in the film is introduced by the women — the white men wear their black and white suits, while the woman pop with their pink lipstick, red nails and yellow dresses. Despite the oppression these women face, they continue to push through with courage and colour, refusing to fade into the shadows.

Perhaps Melfi’s most impressive skill is his ability to remain optimistic without downplaying the politics too much. While more could have been said about the situation of the US around them (only snippets of the full civil rights movement were shown), Melfi focuses on the specific politics of the women’s lives. In Hidden Figures, the protagonists face their hardships dead-on, and their victories are won without aid. The film does not profess that all is well, but it does not deny our ability to get there.

Hidden Figures highlights the many ways in which a society benefits when all are given equal opportunity. It reminds its audience that every time we deny another human being a basic right, society loses. A life of exclusion is muted beige, while one of inclusion is red and pink and yellow and green.

Verdict: If you’re looking for an optimistic film that will have you leaving the cinema feeling rejuvenated and excited about the future, go watch Hidden Figures.

Score: 8.5/10



Sign up to our newsletter to get the latest in digital insights. sign up

Welcome to Memeburn

Sign up to our newsletter to get the latest in digital insights.