Could it be the most important film in the Oscar race?
A little disclaimer before you continue reading: This is yet another piece written by a woman talking about why it’s important to have a film like Hidden Figures, featuring three women of color, in the awards race. It’s as if we’re onto something here.
Inspired by true events, the historical period-piece, directed by Theodore Melfi, follows the lives of Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer), and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) as they juggle working as “human” computers at NASA along with maintaining their roles as wives and mothers.
Set in the early 1960's, the film addresses sexism and racism (with Jim Crow laws still in effect), controlling society at the time. This is abundantly clear with the colored bathrooms, lunch rooms, and coffee pots. The women in this film experience racism and sexism when they try to advance their careers by going after the positions they are more than skilled in. Hidden Figures makes it clear how their work behind the scenes was monumental to John Glenn successfully orbiting the earth three times in 1962, making him the first human to do so.
Granted, this feel-good film is not without its flaws, but what movie isn’t? It doesn’t really explore how deep the women’s friendship runs, as we mainly see them together at work apart from a few dinner party scenes. Kevin Costner’s character, Al Harrison (a fictional character, inspired by a few of NASA's real life task leaders), also swoops in as the male white savior talking about how “we all pee the same” as he tears down a colored bathroom sign. I make this point only to argue that these women did not need a savior, only because everything they accomplished they did by themselves. Like many other women, they fought tooth and nail for every single thing. The film shows the obstacles they needed to overcome to achieve their goals. And they do.
An underdog story in every sense, Hidden Figures was only expected to make around $15 million for its opening weekend. And, it surpassed the figure by $7.8 million. The film has also been sweeping up the awards circuit, having already won twenty seven, including a SAG award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture. It's also nominated for three Oscars, for Best Supporting Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Picture. Still, Taraji P. Henson has noticeably been snubbed for her incredible performance, both at the Globes and the Oscars. Now, if the slew of nominations isn’t enough and someone wants to revisit the “films about women don’t sell” argument, then it’s my pleasure say that Hidden Figures is still smashing it at the box office. With a production cost of around $25 million, the film has now grossed an estimated $144 million worldwide. It’s also the highest grossing best picture contender at the domestic box office. Pretty good for three ladies, am I right?
Films like Hidden Figures are important because they help preserve history. Like, actual history. Not just the little highlights we’re taught at school (or not taught, as things are currently going). Hidden Figures is the kind of film that holds up a mirror to today’s society, raising the question of how far we’ve really come along. It’s important in this turbulent time to see strong female characters who aren’t afraid of going after what they want. Female characters who know their worth and accept nothing less than what they deserve. Female characters who remind us no dream is too big, inspiring us to keep chasing them, and motivating women and men alike. Because heroes come in all shapes, sizes, genders and races. The time of the white male savior has run its course.
Representation matters. And although Hollywood has been trying to clean up its act when it comes to protagonists who aren’t white men, there’s still a long road ahead. That’s why we need stories like these to break the stereotypes that have been forced on African-Americans and other minorities throughout the years. Because we know the history written by men. Throughout most of it, women have been anonymous.
There’s a statue in Madrid of a woman on her knees scrubbing the ground. Next to it is a sign that says, “A todas las mujeres que silenciosamente han construido la historia” or “To all the women who have silently built history.” Hidden Figures is testament to these silent women.
And it’s time more of their stories are heard.
Silla Berg is an Icelandic screenwriter and an avid sunset chaser. In her spare time you can find her writing about topics she's passionate about, using sarcasm as her weapon of choice.