Like with most movies, the hope is that the best parts aren’t included in the trailer. Also, damn you Queen of Katwe, you ruined Hidden Figures for me. I expected Queen of Katwe to be a surface, feel good, Disney movie, but it wasn’t, it had substance, it had some grit. It gave me hope for Hidden Figures.
(Unedited) Mama said: “We have to see this one, FIRST—it’s our history. They kept it away from us long enough, so we cannot wait any longer.” Christmas Eve, my family and I agreed with my mother to see Hidden Figures, though I wanted to see Fences or Collateral Beauty. Traditionally, if there’s a Black movie being released during the holidays, we go to see it on Christmas Day, but the weather was going to be questionable, so we went the day before.
Real talk, it took me a minute to write this review because I didn’t want to crap on such an important, necessary and purpose-filled movie. I am vegan eggnog happy that Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn and Mary Jackson are finally being recognized, and on a large scale, at that. Black womyn*: we are talented, beautiful, complex, magical, and we have endured a lot.
but…however…lol lol lol
…I was NOT blown away by Hidden Figures. Possibly, how they chose to tell the story would have been better suited as a documentary vs. a drama, based upon true events. As far as curb appeal and award nominations, a dramatized account with a certain Hollywood flare, during the holidays, was a far better decision. I get it…trust me, I do, but *adult tantrum* I wanted more. And don’t give me the “folks ain’t never satisfied…” stare-down at your computer screen. lol lol lol
When I first started writing this review, on the commute home from the theater, I thumbed this in the notes section of my phone: “First and foremost, Virginia is a Bi$%^&*. Never, ever, ever, do I want to live in a Commonwealth. Anyoo, how easy it would be to go all in on Hidden Figures and reduce it to being an ashy…dry…flat, movie. Fall back. Not blasphemy. I’m talmbout the actual movie, NOT the herstory of the Black womyn elders/ancestors who’ve been overlooked and paved the way for Black womyn at NASA, and who made major contributions to the US space program. Poorly written screenplay, maybe, maybe not, depending on the intent?!?!?!? I need to read the book, was it this straight-forward?”
After sitting with this for a couple of days and seeing other people’s reaction to the movie, I’ve backed off, better yet, broadened my scope.
It’s okay to have a feel good movie. Though the storyline is serious, it was a feel-gooder in that it was a portrayal of active resistance and a disruption of a narrative that Black gyrls/womyn don’t excel, aren’t exposed to and aren’t good at STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). A much-needed movie of triumph, cause how 2016 is setup, we needed this. It’s okay to have a movie where civil rights, oppression, Hampton VA, and Langley Research Center are the backdrop, and these Black womyn’s brilliance is at the forefront, centered.
For many, this was more palatable than Fences. Several comments I’ve read say that Fences is too heavy for this time of the year. I think things like reality TV and the nightly news have clouded our judgment and ability to distinguish between portraying us as the beautifully flawed, multi-dimensional humans, that we are, versus portraying us as caricatures, stereotypes…less than.
Nonetheless, I wanted more. I wanted to know more about the actual sistahs, as womyn.
Straight-laced and direct storytelling. Facts stated. An inside look into NASA, not an inside look into the depth of Dorothy, Mary and Katherine.
Most importantly, I didn’t need the “good” white dude, captain save a negro, Hollywood’s good guy character. This was not Whitney Houston in Body Guard, singing *I wanna run to you.* Kevin Costner stayed getting the side eye in Hidden Figures.
Octavia Spencer though, she has a way. How she do what she do makes scenes betta—she ups the ante in movies. It’s her resolve, and grown womon sistagyrlness, that translates well on the screen and speaks volumes.
It was also good seeing Mahershala Ali, Juan from Moonlight, in this movie. His character was a nice touch, and rightfully so, Colonel Johnson did not overshadow the womyn; but, I push back on this decision, placing us in the context of men. Don’t get me wrong, portraying Black folk loving on one other is always welcomed, but it’s interesting that this is what was highlighted in Katherine’s personal life. Also, seeing snippets of their family and community life were welcomed. And one of Katherine’s daughters was played by the same little sistah, Saniyya Sidney, who played Raynell, in Fences.
Sidenote: As stated by the 5 high school girls sitting behind us, “Octavia Spencer getting all the money.” During the previews we saw her in 2 upcoming movies. “Okay, Octavia, we see you, boo!” Gifted and The Shack.
Janelle Monáe portrayed a sassy, witty, “rebellious” and smart Mary Winston Jackson, the engineer, her characterization was a lil too cookie cutter; however, Monáe is growing on me as an actress. Janelle’s sense of self came through in her role as Teresa, in Moonlight, and now in this; even still, Octavia was the most nuanced of the characters, though Taraji (“T”) was supposed to be #1. Which, they made it crystal clear from the jump that Taraji was the lead. The movie opened with Katherine’s childhood, we didn’t see either of the other two, as children.
Take away: Always been a village and community effort in rearing our children, and it’s always been essential that we speak excellence over our children. Also, we’ve always had to make gut wrenching parenting decisions and have the courage, selflessness and foresight to let our children go and give them the space to soar. I am reminded of the Ray Charles movie, when his mama sent him away to the Lighthouse school after she’d taught him all that she could. And how Gabby Douglas’s mom let her go train in Iowa. Sacrifice has never been foreign to Black parents.
So yeah, about the “lead.” Taraji’s details were overkill. I get pushing up the glasses was her character’s thing, but it was cliché. We get it, she was a nerd, but she wasn’t no punk, so I didn’t need the glass push thing.
Pharrell had to push that soundtrack too. Lol lol. T’s theme music and the constant running back and forth to the “colored only toilet” was overkill, but it was the setup for the other two overkill dramatic moments to be packaged for the Academy, Oscar reel—T snapping, and captain save a negro, knocking down a sign. I wanted to laugh so bad when Taraji snapped, because I could hear her say, “See, I’m a classically trained character actress, damnit.” Lol lol lol.
“Able” a song on the soundtrack is my ish. The song says: “Don’t you know that we’re able. That alone makes us major. We can all sit at the table. Yes we can.” He channeled Obama’s campaign with, “yes we can.” Along with a possible unintentional nod to Solange’s Seat at the Table.
The mechanic. The engineer. The mathematician. STEM in color and gendered, womon. I can dig it.
I valued seeing the inner-workings of NASA. It fed the geek in me. I worked for IBM in the early 90’s, as apart of a high school initiative, so it was nostalgic to see the IBM mainframe and be reminded of Fortran. It tripped me out hearing humons, being called computers—the thought that machines were designed to rival the wonder of the humon brain, devoid of emotions. As a therapist, that’s really interesting. My world as a therapist is centered on feelings and emotions.
20 humon computers. 20 “negro” womyn in the West Computing Room. launch & landing projections to orbit earth analytic geometry elliptical to parabolic orbits Friendship 7
One of the most poignant scenes in the movie was Dorothy Vaughan, portrayed by Octavia Spencer, leading her unit of Black womyn to their new assignment as programmers for the IBM mainframe. #formation. #squad. This moment reminded me of the hospital scene in Malcolm X when the brothas lined the street outside of the hospital unafraid, and Brother Malcolm, with a single hand, instructed them to turn and walk after he received the news from the Black doctor that the brotha was going to live. Another key scene is Spencer in the white library, with her children. The way in which she explained this to her children was soulful, epic and definitely done as only a Black mama can. Lol lol lol. Take away: Access to knowledge is one of our cultural values.
This movie further affirms a knowingness that we built this place and we are the backbone of sooooooo many aspects of innovation in this country. And to think that calculating numbers was considered “womyn’s work.” Meh.
The significance of Hidden Figures is INTERSECTIONALITY. They were not only “colored,” they were womyn. The aggressions, cuz wasn’t ish micro about them, reminds us of the pure pettiness of –isms. The smaller, dusty coffee pot labeled “colored,” petty AF. Moreover, the image of Katherine as the only Womon*/Black in the sea of white men sent me on a quick personal journey of all the ish I endured in higher education, both as a student and a professional. I also thought about co-optation and the politics of titles and research and “lead researcher” and who gets credit for ones work. The notion that we have to be twice as good was a consistent theme of Hidden Figures. This country’s ego also stretched thick under the movie.
Costner’s character said:“We have to look beyond the numbers. Create math that doesn’t exist.” As Black people in the Americas, this is what we’ve always done, look beyond what meets the eye.
So, it’s not that I didn’t get anything from the movie, I did. I just wanted something different, something more. More than a herstory lesson, I wanted more insight into the actual womyn as humons, not merely computers. Though I feel this way, I hold another space as it relates to this movie.
In the movie theater, a row behind us, were 5 highly, intelligent and opinionated, teenagers. I was overly aware of their presence because I work with girls their age, and I really wanted to get a feel of how they received the movie. On how the Black men treated the Black womyn in the movie, one of them stated: “Awwwww, the proposal is a family affair. Cute.” As another one responded: “He accepts her children.” While yet another said: “We need men like this, not these lame little boys who only want the cakes.” Yes Gawd, show them how they deserve to be treated.
There were other moments when they co-signed with the womyn standing up for themselves and redesigning the narrative on Black womyn. They were offended with how the womyn were treated by NASA, but they were most disheartened by how the sistahs were underestimated. They were Team Taraji, Octavia and Janelle because they saw themselves reflected on the big screen. This, at the end of the day, is why the movie is important.
Next up…my Fences review.
*Woman/Women spelled with an “o” and “y” as a less prejudicial and patriarchal spelling of the words.