It shouldn’t have to be the most extraordinary example of this story for it to be told – but it probably needs to be, just to be heard.
For me, the most moving moment in Hidden Figures takes place not at NASA, but on a bus. Octavia Spencer‘s example to her boys, her lesson to them on how to be black men in a white world, is the essence of Hidden Figures wrapped up tight in a fist of fury and resolve. Likewise, as mother to her cadre of “human calculators”, responsibility to her means that staying ahead of the game and being forward-thinking are basic requirements for their survival.
It shouldn’t have to be an extraordinary story in an extraordinary setting for an example white American treatment of African-Americans to be portrayed, much less seen. And it is extraordinary, not only that these women successfully put men in space, but that they did so despite their treatment, regard and status in society. It’s not only unacceptable that they have to be ten times better than their white counterparts to be treated half as well, it’s a sad indictment of the culture – then and now – that a story has to be this extraordinary in order to be told.
Having only seen Taraji P. Henson play the famously extra Cookie, it’s wonderful to see the internalised emotion and highwire dignity she brings to her performance here. Janelle Monáe‘s talent and poise lend her portrayal of Mary a nuanced balance between the regal and the profane, which never tips over too far into one or the other, but remains on the charismatic side of both.
Lessons from the Screenplay looks at Allison Schroeder‘s screenplay, for which she was granted permission by Catherine Johnson (played by Henson) to tell her story, only if it was told as part of a team story: