One of the most watched, commented, and powerful films of the year 2016, Hidden Figures. This incredible story based on real events impacted Hollywood and the audiences, for multiple reasons. That’s why we’re going to analyze the film for you today, and pick out a few from the movie shelf, so you can continue your momentum.
The Hidden Figures referred to in the film’s title are the mathematicians Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson, who during the Cold War years played a crucial role in the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union thanks to their brilliant abilities in the fields of mathematics and aeronautics.
To do so, they had to fight and vindicate themselves not only because of their status as women, in the macho society of the 1960s and in a world like that of the American agencies dominated almost exclusively by men but also because of the color of their skin, at a time when racial discrimination was so accepted as to have different toilets. The film has achieved several nominations for both the Golden Globes and the Oscars.
The Mathematics of the Minority
A powerful storyline, inside a well-known plot
The film tells the story of these three women based on Margot Lee Shetterly‘s biography. And it does so in a way that is as conventional as it is effective. A formula that was already used by its director, Theodore Melfi, in his previous film, St. Vincent, with Bill Murray playing a grumpy old man redeemed by a boy who is reluctantly put in jail.
The best thing about this approach is that Melfi proves again that he masters this approach to the point of nailing it. The worst thing is that even though he brings it to perfection, there is hardly any room for surprise or reflection. From the first minute, we know what is going to happen and how it is going to happen.
This doesn’t prevent the film from being seen with great delight; it tells us a curious story that until now has been unknown to an immense majority, and it does so with such kindness that it’s impossible not to be carried away by its good intentions.
In its deluxe film format – without too much bragging, the film offers an irreproachable fact – what raises the bar for this production to have stood out in the billboard to the point of achieving three Oscar nominations (including best film) is the brilliant cast of actresses and actors.
Tareji P. Henson (in her effective leading role), Janelle Monáe and above all Octavia Spencer (nominated as supporting actress and winner a few years ago in this same category for The Help) manage to give their characters as much strength as grace and fill the screen with talent and enthusiasm in every scene.
For his part, Kevin Costner gave a gourmand role that fits like a glove. Kirsten Dunst also appears in the – always necessary in this type of films – unpleasant role, alongside one of the current top actors, Mahershala Ali.
Breaking through the façade of society
The great virtue of this lovely biopic is that, although the protagonists are very intelligent black women who made possible the arrival of man on the moon, it gives you the impression that you’ve already seen this movie.
That’s an incredibly positive asset because, although it may seem so, it’s not at all usual to see topics such as the daily racial segregation, assumed by the professionals of a whole country, without a tragic background, of judicial drama, in which the classic white lawyer manages to destroy the prejudices of the whole jury and the court.
In this regard, it’s worth rescuing the moment when the character played by Kevin Costner destroys the sign of the black women’s bathrooms to eliminate the absurd barrier that makes his best calculator lose 40 minutes every day to relieve himself.
In the film we expect, that a moment like that would have a grand, magical, sentimental musical accompaniment to plant the “goosebumps, now, please” button. However, it’s presented without any grand drama. The character just wants to save precious time and be pragmatic.
The protagonists are only looking for what the rest of the characters are looking for: to reach the same goals, solve the same equations, solve the same enigmas.
Our follow-up point is Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson) and, since she is a child, just seeing the conditions, the family, in which her enormous intellect flourishes. Hidden Figures proposes a common objective for all its characters but only three find it difficult to achieve.
Hidden figures, history’s shame
Telling history’s truth, throughout reality
When a film set in the 1960s depicts racism in small gestures by white Americans, it makes us think that they are not good people. That we would all have broken the “black toilet” sign on the first day.
Hidden Figures shows whites as simple pawns of a racist system, who don’t even consider segregation a problem because for them it’s cultural. No one questions how everything is set up until they collide with reality at the next table.
The way they alternate the slow and difficult ascent of each of the mathematics, with the growth of the space program in parallel, creates an electrifying rhythm in which the most dramatic factors appear as mere bumps on the road.
Although seeing the balanced tone that has been sought for the counting, it’s not surprising that the difficulties were not even greater. The three main actresses are funny, expressive, endearing, and turn the naive enthusiasm of their characters into a spontaneous emotional grip.
Hidden Figures avoids the clichés by sticking to the prototypes we’ve seen happen a thousand times. Each subplot develops in harmony towards the same point and when it arrives you know that you have seen the same formula as always, but with the factors of the equation altered with enough sarcasm to remove the embarrassments from decades of self-complacent American fiction.
If you loved the movie and believe that I’ve done it justice, you’ll most likely love my recommendations. Everything has been chosen very carefully to avoid stealing any minutes of your valuable time. Dig in!
To be someone, without the power of choice
Fences is the typical film that at first does not invite a light viewing but in which you end up fully committed. Let me explain: it’s almost two hours and twenty minutes of footage in which we see the evolution of an African-American family during the 1950s.
Up to this point, everything seems pretty simple, but now the title. Fences is trying to tell us something that goes beyond that hasty synopsis: that it’s going to tell us about what separates us from others, what leads us to take shelter, and at the same time what prevents us from escaping. Of borders, of changing times.
Rose Maxon’s (Viola Davis) husband Troy (Denzel Washington) is a Pittsburgh janitor who in his youth dreamed of a career in professional baseball. His dream was shattered because the First Division of Baseball did not admit black players, and by the time he started admitting them, Troy was too old to pursue the sport.
Over time he adopts a humble life and, although he strives to be a good husband and father, his dream of glory is shattered, leading him to make a decision that threatens to destroy his family.
In the meantime, he continues to struggle to be seen as just another worker without being discriminated against because of the color of his skin. This justice he seeks in society is not the justice he applies to his private life.
The Blind Side
A grand character with a fine silhouette
The Blind Side, the movie that won Sandra Bullock the Oscar for Best Leading Actress, tells the story of an episode in the life of someone from that part of town that rich white people in Memphis, don’t see. They never visit them.
This is a real-life character: Michael Oher played by Quinton Aaron, is a black football player born into poverty and homeless, whose mother was addicted to crack, and who was taken in as a son at the age of eighteen by a white family.
But this is not exactly social blindness that prevents the poor from seeing. In the hidden part of the city of The Blind Side, there’s no invisible society. The white people seem to be right not to look there because the only thing shown in the film is degradation by drugs, crime, and poverty
. There is nothing worth seeing there. The reason Michael Oher is saved from that hell is that he was also playing blind: his mother asked him to close his eyes so that he wouldn’t see her when he was on drugs.
Charity and motherly love that drive the Christian family to rescue Oher have as a correlate the Augustinian conception of evil as a defect, a deprivation; how not to be, in synthesis. The name of the neighborhood from which the boy comes is illustrative: Hurt Village.
The way in which the character is introduced into the life of the family as well. Michael Oher emerges from the darkness of a cold and foggy night. He seems to come out of nowhere, and he is a fuzzy figure that is gradually acquiring a thin definition, despite his enormous size.
The Pursuit of Happyness
The power of father and son
The Pursuit of Happyness recreates the true story of Chris Gardner, a hard-working, idealistic San Francisco salesman who goes bankrupt in the mid-1980s. At that time, his wife leaves home with their five-year-old son. But Chris regains custody of the boy and tries to make ends meet.
He and his son eventually live in sleazy motels, homeless shelters, bus stations, subway bathrooms, and even the street. But they never throw in the towel.
His script responds to the classic formula of the search for the American dream against all odds. Muccino confirms that the formula is not exhausted and that, normal people still believe in the value of virtues, work done with illusion, personal sacrifice, family affection, and good humor.
A moral substrate that facilitates the showcasing of the actors, especially Will Smith and his own son, Jaden Smith, who exudes naturalness and sympathy.
For his part, Muccino develops dramatic conflicts fluently and balances the story’s optimism with a moderately hyper-realistic tone which is only rude on a couple of occasions.
Octavia Spencer and Company, indulging us again
The Help was one of the biggest commercial successes 2011 in the United States (it was number one for over three weeks and raised over $160 million) and even a favorite at the Oscars.
No surprise there, because it adapts a best-selling novel, has an attractive cast of actresses, and addresses like Hidden Figures, the issue of racial segregation.
But in addition, it’s a careful production that seeks the sympathy of the spectator at all times. A sentimental story that is easy to consume, with evident social injustices, difficult situations that are overcome with effort and good humor, dividing the protagonists between good and bad.
It’s the typical nice and pretty afternoon film, featuring laughter and tears in moderate portions, dramatic but optimistic, appropriate for relaxed digestion.
The story of The Help, based on Kathryn Stockett‘s best-seller (another success story after being rejected by dozens of publishers), takes us back to the 1960s and to Jackson, Mississippi.
Through the eyes of the young, independent, and modern Skeeter (Emma Stone), we enter a reality of traditional and wealthy white people who employ poor, black people in low-skilled jobs.
The girl has not grown up assimilating the social rules of her environment or its prejudices and rejects the disdain with which her superficial friends treat their maids, relationships conditioned by the color of their skin. Unlike all the others in the area, Skeeter’s goal is not to get married, have children, and play cards.
Her desire is to become a writer, and one day she decides that she wants to make known a version that has never been heard, that of the black woman who takes care of the white household.
Everything from a melodramatic and humorous prism, using clichés and commonplaces, seeking to please all viewers, without boring anyone.
The entire film was adapted from Margot Lee Shetterly’s book Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race. The plot focuses on three real-life African-American female pioneers: Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson, who were part of NASA’s team.
The film was 74% accurate when compared to real-life events, summarizing that: “the crux of the story is true, and any events that didn’t actually happen are at least illustrative of how things really were”.
Katherine G. Johnson, 101, is the only woman still alive from the group depicted in Hidden Figures.
The movie is exactly 2 hours and 7 minutes long.
To be honest, just by writing about Hidden Figures, I felt like watching the film again. The past decade was filled with spectacular films and one of them was undoubtedly this one. Let’s not let it fall into the void and let’s do it justice, just as it did in its social commentary.
If you also loved it and you want to see more movies like this one, with a fine script and a balance between reality and fiction, without disrespecting anyone, I honestly recommend that you pay attention to the other movies.
Perhaps the best step would be to start with The Help and leave The Pursuit of Happyness as the last one on this shortlist, mainly because of its crude reality that will make you cry in a matter of seconds.
Between the two of them, you can pick equally between The Blind Side or Fences, since both are beautiful in their social commentary as well as in their ensemble of actors and storyline.