Hidden Figures

Film Review |By Christian Tesfaye - Exclusive to Fortune

Directed and co-written by Theodore Melfi, Hidden Figures is one of the most acclaimed movies of the year. The story is based on ordinary individuals whom do not do anything amazing but simply succeed in their chosen line of duty. But it shows the stark difference of how people of color and women are treated. They seem to be treated as second class citizens in their own country. It is illustrated beautifully 8 out of 10 stars.

It is that time of the year again. Summer is close, so pre-summer movies are flooding the theaters. Hollywood, the mammoth machine, is greedy for its diesel, big budget movies aimed at the younger audience. The suckling broods, the multiplexes, are yearning for more milk. They will eat anything out of mommy’s gaping mouth, as long as it fattens the box office.

The new films brought to Matti Cinema, in the truest sense of the phrase, leave much to be desired. Going in Style is a comedy-crime film, somewhat like Ocean’s Eleven, but with geriatrics. But compared to the multiplexes’ other offering, Smurfs: The Lost Village (and in 3D), it may as well be Rififi. So I went out looking for more respectable offerings, and I found Hidden Figures.

The Best Picture nominated movie, which came out in early January, was screened at a nondescript auditorium near the Ethiopian National Archives and Library, at a nondescript time (10 in the morning). It was hosted by the United States Embassy, whose nation state the movie is concerned by.

The story takes place during a critical juncture in American history, the early 1960’s, when the civil-rights movement was simmering. The United States president was relatively young, idealistic and liberal; charismatic African-American leaders were making leeway and rock music was launching a strike against all things rigid. But there were also many (too many) that were weary of such change, who wanted the country to remain just as their forefathers have left it for them. These two groups were on a collision course, and they continue to be to this day.

In the city of Hampton, Virginia, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is running a research center dedicated to putting a man into space. The job is daunting, especially because failure is akin to losing the Cold War. The Soviet Union has already sent Yuri Gagarin triumphantly into space, who orbited the earth ones, passing mainland America overhead. This is one position from where one could theoretically drop an atom bomb.

The government had to enlist help from whoever it could, even African-American women, who nonetheless had to be relegated to segregated offices. Before the onslaught of computers, NASA had to recruit dozens of highly talented mathematicians to calculate complicated numerical analysis for the space mission. Katherine Goble Johnson (Taraji P. Henson) calculated the flight trajectories, Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spenser) was a mathematician as well as a supervisor of the African-American team and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae) worked in the engineering department. If it was not for these woman, and dozens more, John Glenn (and his country) may not have had his day in the spotlight as early as all that.

Directed and co-written by Theodore Melfi, Hidden Figures is purposeful. Its subjects are the rather less-known individuals whose contribution to their society was not to speak out, or do something famously extraordinary, but to succeed in their chosen field of work. Through this (very hard) act they were able to demonstrate the irony of their country, how strange it is to toil just as much as the white man, for the advancement of one’s nation, the economy, security and welfare, simply, at the end of the day, to be treated as a second class citizen.

Hidden Figures is more social commentary than Cinema. I do not mean this in a bad way (or do I?), but it is important to note that the film is very marketable. It has a very lively, easy to follow, but very well constructed, plot (based on true events) that anyone can relate to. It does not necessarily challenge – unless one is a neo-Nazi – it does not hit the same cerebral nerves as last year’s sharp-eyed Man Booker Prize winner The Sellout. It tells the touching story of these women who, like so many, experienced bigotry and sexism in a manner that is well above mainstream drudgery.

How relevant is the movie outside America though?

Sure, sexism exists in every country, but the type of racism America experiences is somewhat unique. There is tribalism right here in Ethiopia, but tribes or ethnicities are not (for the most part) divided along lines of skin color. Any ethnicity could be beige or black. This is not so in the United States. White colonial natives, European Americans and Jews are white. African Americans, Native Americans, Asians and Arabs are persons of color.

Hidden Figures was one of 2016’s – and early 2017’s – most acclaimed movies. But it was not the only movie that dealt with race relations. There was The Birth of a Nation, whose title was symbolically ripped of the 1915 D.W. Griffith movie, in which the Ku Klux Klan were the heroes and black people the villains. The Denzel Washington directed Fences, very delicate and literal, with impressive performances. And the Best Picture winner, Moonlight, which to be honest was a little overrated. But of all the movies – and not just of the ones dealing with race – released that year, O.J.: Made in America was the most ingenious, and dare I say, the most humorous.



By Christian Tesfaye
Exclusive to Fortune

Published on Apr 14,2017 [ Vol 17 ,No 884]



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