Theatre 4 at AMC’s Hoffman Center in Alexandria was PACKED on Christmas Eve. I was proud to be a part of the crowd. And I truly enjoyed watching Hidden Figures. The three leads did an incredible job (who knew Janelle Monae could act like that?). I walked out of the movie inspired by these Black women’s ingenuity, courage, and yes, fortitude. There are a few points that merit further discussion, though.
Slight spoilers ahead. Read at your own risk!
The interactions between the three leads and the police were not as fraught with tension as I felt they should have been. In fact the first one was played for laughs. It feels inaccurate and dangerous to perpetuate the myth that the police were any less brutal and racist to Black women than they were to Black men. I know I am watching this movie through a post-BLM lens, where people know more about Mike Brown than Rekia Boyd, but my point still stands. This was my first clue that this screenplay was written by white people.
White Feminism vs. Intersectionality
The scenes between Vivian Mitchell (Kirsten Dunst) and Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer) were performed with all the nuance and crackling resentment that the police scenes should have had. Mitchell’s story was written all over her face. Here was a white woman who had hit her ceiling at NASA but could still exert power over Black women, so that’s where she channeled her frustrations.
Segregation is Not Smart
In a country where states like Virginia flouted Federal and Supreme Court rulings, they should not have been surprised that Russia beat them into space. So much brain power was invested into putting treating Black people like second-class citizens with limited access to libraries, water fountains, and even coffee pots. How much was left over to calculate launch and landing trajectories?
Respect vs. Rights
Another clue that the script was written by white folks. Token displays of respect held as much weight as winning equal rights. Mitchell finally calling Dorothy, “Mrs. Vaughn” at the end and Stafford (Jim Parsons) delivering Katherine (Taraji P. Henson) a cup of coffee were intended to be victories on the same scale as Mary (Janelle Monae) winning the right to attend classes at a white school so she could advance at NASA. I think most Black folks would agree, respect is nice but rights are better.
I hope that Katherine and Mary’s husbands (played by Mahershala Ali and Aldis Hodge respectively) were as supportive in real-life as their fictional counterparts. I doubt it, but I haven’t read the book, so I do not know. Again I am watching this movie as a jaded Black woman of a certain age who has watched Black women support Black men with little to no reciprocity. Forgive me if the men’s enthusiastic support (after initial confusion and resistance) felt a bit fake to me.
Where were Dorothy’s scenes with her husband? We saw him once as they danced together after a birthday party. I supposed the rest of those scenes were left on the cutting room floor if they were filmed at all. Would have been nice to see and older, bigger Black woman get some love and support onscreen. It shouldn’t be shown for two of the leads but not for all.
Who let Pharrell sing so many songs on the soundtrack? And why were these screechy, off-key vocal performances featured during key scenes of the film? There were only two great songs on Hidden Figures: The Album and they were sung by Lalah Hathaway (Surrender) and Janelle Monae (Isn’t This the World). I don’t remember hearing these songs in the movie proper.
All in all, I’m glad I got to see Hidden Figures. I loved watching Black women be brilliant and be the stars of the story. I hope this movie inspires many women of color to pursue STEM careers. I just hope that the next Hidden Figures is written by Black women.
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