Hidden Figures is about a group of mathematical geniuses who did calculations and computer programming for NASA in the 1960's, all of which happen to be black women. As such, they were treated as second class citizens, despite their brilliance and what they contributed to the manned space program.
The movie focusses mostly on Katherine Goble when she was reassigned to work in the Guidance and Control Division, which was staffed by all white male engineers.
We feel for the characters as they face obstacles at every turn. They are forced to use separate bathrooms, separate coffee pots, denied advancement, not allowed security clearances, and excluded from meetings necessary for them to do their jobs. Eventually, three of the ladies prove themselves worthy enough to take on more important roles at NASA.
I find myself wondering if the mistreatment of these women is exaggerated to make a political point, but from what I can find on the Internet, the movie is accurate. It is mostly a history lesson about civil rights, so I feel a little bit like I am being lectured to. As a history lesson, the film doesn't always stir our emotions as well as it should. At times the movie feels kind of flat. The deepest emotional moment is when one of the characters gets proposed to by her boyfriend. For this reason, I don't think that the entertainment value of the film is exceptional, but it is tells a story that people should know about.
The man doing the proposing is played by Mahershala Ali, who I have enjoyed on a couple of TV series. However, he always plays quiet characters, and here he is too subdued. He would be more interesting with a little fire in his belly.
I am sure that Octavia Spencer is a good actress, but her performance didn't convince me that she is a mathematical genius. What she does well is portray a struggling black woman in a hostile world.
Kevin Costner plays the head of NASA like an angry football coach who is frustrated by every setback.
We see a different side of Jim Parsons, in a non-comical role as the chief engineer. His character seems completely unsympathetic, if not hostile, to the plight of Katherine Goble.
Rating: * * * 1/2