The Bock’s Office: ‘Hidden Figures’ uplifting biopic about America’s lift-off into space | SteamboatToday.com

The Bock’s Office: ‘Hidden Figures’ uplifting biopic about America’s lift-off into space

Andy Bockelman

Katherine Goble (Taraji P. Henson) oversees the many space flight calculations involved in NASA launches in "Hidden Figures." The movie is about several African-American women who played a part in America's Space Race.

Genius is rarely recognized in the right way, and in a divisive system that keeps members of society down, it's even less likely that mankind can progress into the future. Hollywood's efforts to convey this are usually less than subtle, but then, they aren't as smart as the main characters of "Hidden Figures."

If you go…

"Hidden Figures," rated PG

Rating: 3 out of 4 stars

Running time: 126 minutes

Starring: Taraji J. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe and Kevin Costner

Now playing at Wildhorse Stadium Cinemas.

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In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the American public is wrapped up in many issues of the day, but few topics take precedence over the Space Race between the United States and the Soviet Union. The efforts of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to outdo the Russians in exploring the reaches of outer space have scientists and mathematicians working around the clock, and among those contributing are Langley Research Center's West Area Computers, a group of African-American women who fill in wherever needed.

Standing out as one of the most brilliant math minds is Katherine Goble (Taraji P. Henson), who is eventually selected to work on the Space Task Group to calculate the delicate details of upcoming missions.

Along with her fellow female computers (Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe), Katherine begins to make a name for herself among her NASA superiors, though no matter how much they prove their abilities, the social constructs of the time continue to be an obstacle in the collaborative labor to do the impossible and put a man in space.

Henson is excellent as a truly remarkable real-life woman, Katherine Gobel — later Katherine Johnson — someone who can count themselves among the great minds of the 20th century but initially too soft-spoken to demand the respect she deserves, knowing all too well the constraints of her position.

Even so, once she finds her voice to match her gifted abilities, this woman went on to be the only one John Glenn (Glen Powell) trusted to guarantee his safety before going into orbit and also made a little thing called the moon landing happen.

Spencer is great as ever as Dorothy Vaughan, the supervisor of the West Area Computers, likewise getting far less acknowledgement than a white colleague (Kirsten Dunst) but going on to carve out a niche in coding as more complex machinery is brought in to NASA. By the way, yes the "computers" are people doing computing work and no, the office sign that says "Colored Computers" shouldn't surprise you.

Monáe has a smaller but still important part as Mary Jackson, whose dreams of being on the engineering team are conveniently kept out of reach by administrators requiring additional training through an institution that doesn't allow black women.

Jim Parsons portrays an awfully familiar type of genius as Katherine's fastidious coworker Paul Stafford — replace Sheldon Cooper's "that's my spot" with "that's confidential" and watch the whining begin — while Kevin Costner is just right as Al Harrison, head of the spaceflight team with little interest in the skin color or gender of those in his office as long as they can do the math.

The timeline of this story of American collaborative success overpowering the lingering vestiges of segregation is a little off, but it makes its point just as well. A sequence of scenes that serve no other purpose than to remind us of the inherent flaws of "separate but equal" lead up to a more direct confrontation of the inadequacies suffered by the black population.

When your office gives you your own special coffeepot, it's not because they respect you, and let's not forget the bathroom situation.

It's worth noting that even when NASA employees seem to get past any racial prejudice they may have, most employees wearing skirts still remain low in the pecking order. One battle at a time, I guess.

The trajectory of "Hidden Figures" is a tad shaky, but the portrayal of inspiring people who remained in the background for too long makes for a better film thanks to its unerring cast.

Get the right people involved, and moviemaking isn't exactly rocket science, is it?

Contact Andy Bockelman at 970-875-1793 or abockelman@CraigDailyPress.com or follow him on Twitter @TheBocksOffice.

If you go…

“Hidden Figures,” rated PG

Rating: 3 out of 4 stars

Running time: 126 minutes

Starring: Taraji J. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe and Kevin Costner

Now playing at Wildhorse Stadium Cinemas.