As we come closer to the Academy Awards on February 26th, we’ll be posting short profiles of each Best Picture nominee, attempting, in our own ways, to not only sum up what the movie is about, but why we believe it scored one of the nine coveted nominations, and why it could possibly take home the big prize come Oscar night. Enjoy!
Ladies and gents, meet this year’s dark horse.
Katherine G. Johnson. Dorothy Vaughan. Mary Jackson.
“They are hidden figures NO MORE!”
Taraji P. Henson triumphantly proclaimed this when she accepted the Screen Actor’s Guild’s trophy on behalf of her outstanding cast. In Hidden Figures, she plays Johnson, whose incredible math skills earned her a job as a “computer” at NASA. She worked alongside dozens of women, including Vaughan and Jackson, in a segregated division of the facility. Dorothy is an intellectual hustler determined to eke out a vital role for the staff she unofficially manages. Mary is a real spitfire with the perfect mind for engineering—if not the perfect gender or skin color.
As the Space Race with Russia escalates, each of these women rise to the occasion to keep America competitive. Katherine gains the respect of Space Task Group boss Al Harrison (Kevin Costner) and astronaut John Glenn (Glen Powell) with her cutting edge calculations. She also finds new love with the dashing Army officer Jim Johnson (Moonlight’s Mahershala Ali killing me softly once again).
Like Arrival, this movie grounds space action sequences (particularly Glenn’s white-knuckle final mission) with characters that persevere and excel while facing some of life and history’s worst circumstances. Hidden Figures celebrates the achievements of those incredible black women and ultimately transcends race and gender to give all people a trio of outstanding role models.
Many people are comparing this film to 2011’s The Help. Both won SAG’s Best Picture equivalent. Both star a heavily-nominated Octavia Spencer. Those are some compelling parallels, but Figures has more awards street cred. It’s a TRUE story that has shamefully gone untold for decades. Screenwriters Theodore Melfi (also director) and Allison Schroeder didn’t embellish these facts as much as the team behind The Imitation Game did. And, despite that controversy, the Alan Turing biopic STILL won the same Adapted Screenplay category Schroeder and Melfi are up for this year. I’m telling you,
the sky the universe really is the limit for this movie.
Now, it’s just a matter of whether Figures is made stronger or weaker by those glaring nomination omissions. Henson and Janelle Monáe should absolutely be in contention for leading and supporting actress, respectively, for their fiercely emotional work. Previous Best Original Song Oscar nominee Pharrell Williams wrote a handful of soulful, charming 1960’s pastiche tunes that could’ve easily nudged out whatever “The Empty Chair” is.
No matter what happens on Oscar night, no one can take away the importance of Hidden Figures or the joy it’s bringing millions of viewers—it’s this year’s highest grossing Best Picture nominee. I admire its ambition and execution. And I hope it eventually finds its way into classrooms all across the country. In addition to wishing that for the sake of the legacies of those brave ladies, I also pray that type of wide distribution (and an Oscar?) will ensure that Hidden Figures will be referred to as “Hidden Fences” NO MORE!
P.S. See it for free this weekend!