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June 16, 2021

Cinema Review: Hidden Figures

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Not many of us can imagine how it must feel to be treated with institutionalised contempt and disregard – unless, that is, you’re a refugee seeking sanctuary in the Land of the Fair Go [sic]. This is one of those movies in which you know exactly what it’s going to be about and where it’s headed. A familiar story is told of outsiders rising above the barriers placed before them by wrong-headed officialdom and toxic social mores to find their place in the sun. It is, on the surface of it, only that, but it manages to be so much more because of its personal touch. A filmmaker can push an issue by brow-beating his audience (eg 12 Years A Slave), but Theodore Melfi finds a winning and uplifting combination to make his point through a stirring combination of charm and passion, and his three leading actresses’ profound, firsthand understanding of their characters’ struggle. Katherine, Dorothy and Mary (Taraji P Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe) are extremely gifted coloured girls (they call themselves ‘girls’ so please, no letters of outrage) working for NASA in the early sixties, when the US was falling behind Russia in the space race. They are destined, through their individual talents, to break through bigotry’s glass ceiling, aided and encouraged by the pragmatic chief, Al Harrison (Kevin Costner – as good as he has been for a while). There is something else, too, that Melfi has captured. Something both beautiful and dispiriting. The period (so exactly created through costume design, soundtrack and automobiles) was one of optimism. Women’s rights were about to be asserted, racial segregation would soon be cast into the dustbin of history, and, before the end of the decade, Neil Armstrong would set foot on the moon. The future was bright. Positivity was in the ascendant and tomorrow was a great day – we all believed. It will be left to future generations to discern what went wrong with our faith in ourselves, but inspiring movies such as this might help relight the candle.


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  1. There is certainly ‘institutionalized contempt and disregard’ today – even for some who are born in Australia. (And it’s also kept a very tight secret by Australia’s media and government bureaucracy.)

    Looking forward to watching what looks like an inspiring movie.


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