There are a fair few films about just now that consider, directly or indirectly, the lot of the African American: Moonlight, Fences, to an extent Jackie, Loving. Hidden Figures is in that mold.
The story of the African American and female contribution to the NASA space programme passed me by as, I’m guessing, it had many. Yet here were three women whose contributions should have been better known . Not only would they have been extraordinary for anyone, for them to be Black and Female at the time of the prejudices rife in societies such as the USA (not that we would have been any better) makes them historic.
And this was a film that allowed you to cheer the underdog, to silently scream ‘hell yeah’ when the cohort of women ‘computers’ – essentially a derogatory term for the people who did the immensely complex calculations before NASA acquired the mechanical computing power we rely in today – were showing up their white male colleagues.
Yet it really did miss a trick. It was Disney Does Race, a neatly packaged sanitised biopic. The goodies were good, the baddies just weak and stereotypical. Some – like the fat white male cop at the start – allowed to be forgiven because he was duped. Only the NASA boss played by Costner – another one of those actors whose always playing himself I think- had shades of grey.
And such was the focus on the Race card, the issue of women generally being involved in what many would have seen as a male domain got a bit lost for me. The white women were drawn as stuck up, prejudiced and secondary in intellect. Why? Sure I bet some were prejudiced, much like the men, but some were geniuses too and discriminated against for their sex. But that would have diluted the civil rights message.
Indeed the fact that there were no black men depicted at NASA in this film screamed for an explanation. It just felt like it was Janet and John does the History of NASA rather than a sophisticated story. Perhaps focusing on the three women led to that problem; had it been one only…
But don’t get me wrong; I enjoyed myself. It was feel good and frothy and told a story that definitely needs a proper airing. But it could have been so much more. Maybe some of the protagonists are still alive . I don’t know about 50 but a few shades of grey would have been welcomed.
I must mention the seats. Normally we go to a Picturehouse cinema in South London. The seats are, ummm, just seats, they flip up, they have backs and arm rests and everyone sorts of understands the mechanics. At the Empire Leicester Square – the only place showing this film on a Saturday night – really, is it that underrated? – they have these seats that just keep on tipping until you feel sure you’re on Graham Norton (look up his Big Red Chair if you don’t know). There was no way of stopping yourself going where the seat wanted you to go without a lot of concentration. And just at the point when you reached a balance some pillock decides to squeeze along the row behind you, grabbing the back of you seat and sending your head into the recovery position and forcing you to kick the seat in front, dislodging that punter from their careful equilibrium. I go to the cinema to watch a film, not demonstrate Newtonian physics that every action has an equal and opposite way to piss everyone else off.
But the good news was the Ben & Jerrys. Cool. Peanut butter cup and vanilla.