There are some parts of history -- even fairly recent American history -- that have been woefully overlooked.  Hidden Figures, based on several real-life people, is the story of three women who were instrumental in America's role in the space race.

Friends Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughn (Olivia Spencer), and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae) all work for NASA.  Unfortunately, they work there in Virginia in the 1960s, so they face both racism and sexism, and it's common for them to be stared at by a whole room.  Katherine is a "human computer" who performs complex calculations -- and has to run to another building to use the bathroom because it's the closest one that's not for whites only.  Dorothy does all the work and has all the responsibility of a supervisor, but is denied repeatedly for the position.  And Mary wants to become an engineer, but she has to sue just to take the required classes at a segregated school.
But the three women are strong and persistent -- and they want to help in getting an American into space before the Russians.  They even have unexpected support from the agency's boss Al Harrison (Kevin Costner), who is unintentionally enlightened not because he believes in equality, but rather because he wants the most work out of his people so NASA beats the Russians into outer space.
Hidden Figures is quite an inspirational film.  While there are subplots (including reminders of segregation, the women's families, and Katherine being wooed by a National Guard member), the focus is on the trio overcoming their obstacles and the competition to send someone into space.  The movie rests on the three stars' abilities -- and they all deliver.  Taraji is endearing as the glasses-wearing mathematical genius who struggles both for recognition and problem solving.  Janelle makes Mary the sassy, outspoken one who's as much a fighter as a joker.  And Octavia has plenty of strength as the overworked and undervalued worker -- who also recognizes the importance of learning how to work the "IBM" machine before almost anyone else.  And while the movie is pretty straightforward in terms of direction, it manages to make solving mathematical problems on a chalkboard interesting.

It's a shame that it took a fictional movie to make these women's contributiions known, but Hidden Figures does so with drama, humor, and a very good sense of history.

Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch

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