‘Hidden Figures’ trio has the right stuff

If you think your job’s bad, imagine being the poor soul who’s in charge of marketing the Commonwealth of Virginia these days.

Thanksgiving weekend brought the awards-season contender “Loving,” which chronicled the real-life plight of Richard and Mildred Loving (Joel Edgerton, Ruth Negga), who in 1958 were rousted out of bed in the middle of the night, thrown in jail and banned from Virginia for 25 years for having violated “God’s law” when the interracial couple had the gall to get married.

Now comes another awards contender, “Hidden Figures”, which tells the true story of Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, three African-American women who were vital to the Apollo space missions, and some of the indignities they suffered because their employer, Langley Memorial Research Lab, was in Hampton, Virginia.

As the movie opens, Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Jackson (singer Janelle Monae), all of whom serve as human computers for the NASA precursor the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics, are on the side of the road, their car having broken down on their way to work. When a white cop approaches them, they brace for the worst. By the end of the encounter, though, when he realizes they’re late for work — work that involves helping to beat the Russians in getting a man into space — he’s giving them a police escort.


But not everything in the inspiring, crowd-pleasing “Hidden Figures” is that rosy for the trio who work in the “colored computers” room.

Jackson has the mind of an engineer, but she can’t apply to be one because she hasn’t taken a course that’s only offered at an all-white high school.

Johnson, the lone employee of any race who can handle analytic geometry, is promoted to the Space Task Group. But since she’s the first black woman they’ve ever let in that building, there isn’t a bathroom for her, so she has to run a half mile to the other end of the campus whenever the need arises. And when she pours herself a cup of coffee, she’s met with harsh stares from her co-workers until someone buys a cheap “colored” coffee pot.

And Vaughan not only is denied the title and benefits of supervisor despite doing the work of one, she’s kicked out of the local library for straying from the colored section because the book she needed — on FORTRAN, the then-cutting-edge programming language — was in the whites-only section.

While racial injustices are an important factor in “Hidden Figures,” director Theodore Melfi (“St. Vincent”) and his co-writer, Allison Schroeder (“Mean Girls 2”), who adapted the book by Margot Lee Shetterley, mostly keep things light and uplifting. Vaughan shields her children from an anti-segregation protest, and a TV briefly shows news footage of a Freedom Riders bus bombing, but that’s as serious as things get.

As for the movie’s “villains,” there’s the token white devil (Kirsten Dunst), who throws as many obstacles as she can at the women, and the lead engineer (Jim Parsons), who seems more upset at Johnson’s being a woman than her being African-American. But they’re both pretty harmless. “Hidden Figures” may be the most entertaining civil rights movie I’ve ever seen.

As vital as Jackson’s and Vaughan’s contributions were, “Hidden Figures” mostly focuses on Johnson, as she helps Space Task Group Leader Al Harrison (Kevin Costner) develop “math that doesn’t yet exist” in order to bring John Glenn (Glen Powell, Fox’s “Scream Queens”) into, and then out of, orbit.

Johnson’s personal life also gets the most attention, as the widowed mother of three young girls is set up by her friend and colleague Jackson with a military man (Monae’s “Moonlight” co-star Mahershala Ali).

Henson carries the bulk of the movie, and does it with a restrained dignity. Monae gets the flashiest role and, between this and “Moonlight,” is proving to be a powerful screen presence. And Octavia Spencer is Octavia Spencer, and Octavia Spencer is good at pretty much everything.

But while their characters certainly existed, you can’t help but feel as though a few — maybe more than a few — liberties were taken with their stories, which feel somewhat Disney-fied.

Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing. “Hidden Figures” wisely leaves the serious racism to other movies in favor of being the feel-good story of three friends who ultimately prove that they, too, have the right stuff.

Contact Christopher Lawrence at clawrence@reviewjournal.com. On Twitter: @life_onthecouch.

Entertainment Videos
Making gluten-free pizza at Good Pie in Las Vegas
Good Pie owner/pizzaiola Vincent Rotolo makes his gluten-free pizza.
Rockabilly fans enjoy Las Vegas weather poolside
Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekender runs Thursday, April 18th through Sunday, April 21st with a huge car show on Saturday featuring The Reverend Horton Heat, The Delta Bombers and The Coasters. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Brownie sundae at VegeNation in Las Vegas is completely vegan
Donald Lemperle, chef/owner of VegeNation in Las Vegas and nearby Henderson, NV, makes his sundae with ice cream made with coconut and almond milks, a brownie made with coconut flour and oil and organic sugar and cacao, and fresh fruit. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Taste of the Town: Henderson Booze District
Those who like to support local businesses and sample local products will find the best concentration in an unlikely spot: a Henderson industrial park.
Founder of Las Vegas theater talks about a favorite play
Ann Marie Pereth, founder of A Public Fit Theatre Company, speaks to the Review-Journal about which play she would see every day if only given one option. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
New Avengers S.T.A.T.I.O.N interactive exhibit
The new exhibit features original and recreated props and plenty of interactive features. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The Writer's Block and Lucy are open in Las Vegas
The Writer's Block and Lucy are open in Las Vegas (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas ice cream shop offers everything in the kitchen sink
Have you ever wanted to eat an ice cream sundae out of a kitchen sink? Who hasn't, right? At Sloan's, located inside the Venetian, you can do just that. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Maxie’s in Las Vegas puts eggs Benedict in a box
Chef David Mangual at Maxie’s in The Linq Promenade in Las Vegas makes his eggs Benedict in a brioche “box” layered with spinach, bacon and tomatoes and topped with poached eggs and hollandaise sauce. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Caviar Twinkie Served at Stripsteak in Las Vegas
Stripsteak Executive Pastry Chef Vivian Chang and Chef Gerald Chin create a novel savory food item that looks like a familiar sweet treat at the restaurant in Las Vegas. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal)
NAB attendees battle to qualify for Fortnite event
NAB is sponsoring an online video game event with Epic Games’ Fortnite allowing attendees to qualify to go head to head with top players. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Arctic Shrimp Sandwich at Saga near Las Vegas
Chef Gert Kvalsund, a native of Norway, founded Saga Pastry + Sandwich in Henderson to give Scandinavians a taste of home. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Guy Fieri and Sammy Hagar talk UNLVino
Guy Fieri and Sammy Hagar talk about the upcoming UNLVino vent. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Christie Brinkley at Smith & Wollensky
Christie Brinkley, in town for her run in “Chicago” at the Venetian Theatre, paid a visit to the Grand Canal Shoppes’ still-under-construction Smith Wollensky on Monday for a ceremonial first toast at the bar. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Two artists create a mural for peace in Las Vegas
2 artists create a mural for peace in Las Vegas (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Inside Kaos nightclub and dayclub
A look at new club at Palms.
CinemaCon Brings Theater Professionals To Caesars
CinemaCon is not just celebs, it's also a place where theater owners can browse the latest in seats, projectors and concessions. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas restaurants provide a taste of ballpark food
The Las Vegas Ballpark, home to the Las Vegas Aviators, will serve food from Giada De Laurentiis and a team of favorite local restaurants. Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal
Taste of the Town: Bobby Flay Opens Shark at the Palms - VIDEO
Bobby Flay opens Shark at the Palms; his first high-end restaurant in 15 years.
Chef Marc Marrone at T-Mobile Arena
Chef Marc Marrone has opened a bao cart at T-Mobile Arena. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Bellagio fountains celebrate 'Game of Thrones'
A medley of the theme for HBO’s “Game of Thrones” and the song “Winter Is Here” from the show premiered at the Bellagio Fountains water show on the Las Vegas Strip on Sunday, March 31, 2019. The new number will run in rotation through April 13. The series premieres its eighth and final series on April 14. (Mick Akers/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegan Aunt Chippy talks about being on Jimmy Kimmel's show
Concetta Potenza, Aunt “Chippy” to Jimmy Kimmel, talks about her first time being featured on her nephew’s show. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The "Flight Unknown" At Bar Centro at Bazaar Meats Las Vegas Features 5 Innovative Cocktails
The "Flight Unknown" At Bar Centro At Bazaar Meats Las Vegas Features 5 Innovative Cocktails (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Cotton candy crowns pancakes in Las Vegas
At Maxie’s at The Linq Promenade in Las Vegas, executive chef David Mangual fills pancakes with fruit and cream cheese and piles on pastel cotton candy, which is melted in a stream of chocolate syrup. Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal
Bananas Foster Pancakes go up in flames at The Stove near Las Vegas
Chef Antonio Nunez at The Stove in Henderson, near Las Vegas, flames the pancakes tableside for a fiery presentation. Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal
El Loco Rollercoaster at Circus Circus' Adventuredome
The El Loco rollercoaster opened at the Circus Circus' Adventuredome in February 2014. It features a 90-foot ascent, followed by a drop that produces a negative 1.5 "verticle G," a 180-degree turn, and reverse 240-degree roll that turns into an inverted drop. The coaster reaches a maximum speed of 45 mph and is the only indoor coaster of it's kind in the U.S., and is the second indoor El Loco coaster in the world, according to MGM Resorts.
Bartending flair competition at the Nightclub & Bar Show
Highlights from the ten contestants who competed for the Shake It Up Flair and Classic Competition at the Nightclub & Bar Show at the Las Vegas Convention Center. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @rookie__rae
Justin Kingsley Hall shares details on his next gig
Chef Justin Kinglsey hall shares some details about the newArts District restaurant he's developing with Kim Owens. (Al Mancini/Las Vegs Review-Journal)
Film prompted Carrie Hogan to found 2 farmers markets in Las Vegas
Carrie Hogan founded Fresh 52 Farmers and Artisan Market in Las Vegas after realizing she had to do something about the influence of factory farms on the food supply. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Seafood dishes being made at Pasta Shop near Las Vegas
Executive chef Edwin Martinez incorporates fresh pasta into Lobster Salmon and Saffron Shrimp Sauté at Pasta Shop Ristorante & Art Gallery in Henderson, near Las Vegas. Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal
Home Front Page Footer Listing