Stars: Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae, Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst, Jim Parsons, Mahershala Ali, Aldis Hodge, Glen Powell.
Director: Theodore Melfi
Screenplay: Theodore Melfi & Allison Schroeder.
This era in NASA history is magical, the time was exciting, fierce, optimistic, passionate, and very anti-soviet. It is hard to reflect back and not awe at the competition between these two nations, however with every passing year it is harder to view this era within the propaganda framework that has been built over the years. America used the Space Race to hit back on the Soviet Union, the politicians were not really in this race to make it to the stars and further humanity but to beat the USSR at their own game and control the stars.
Not only did this propaganda rodeo stop us from reflecting too hard on the hatred of the USSR but also make us forget where NASA was set up; Hampton, Virginia. 1961 there were still coloured bathrooms, water fountains, sections in the court, buses, and libraries, white only schools, and a coloured computer section in the West Area Computing unit. It was unthinkable to have not only a woman be the face of NASA, but a black woman to even share the same office as a white man never crossed their minds. That was until they needed a capable "computer" that could accurately handle the orbital and landing numbers. Katherine Gobels (Taraji P. Henson) was that person, the only problem being that she was both a woman and black.
This is a true story about these black women who's work were undeniably necessary in the success of the early orbital missions. Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae) worked on the capsule, Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer) was the supervisor on the IBM computer, and Katherine made the math work for the reentry of John Glenn's (Glen Powell) maiden orbit. These women until recently have been absent from the story of the early success of NASA. Not once were they represented in such films as The Right Stuff or in any footage that I have seen of that time. They have literally been Hidden Figures who deserved to be front and centre in their time, not hidden away so that white men could take the credit and ultimate glory.
This movie was not just a way to acknowledge these women, it was also just a damn good Space Race film that we have not really had since the 90s. But what makes this film so exhilarating is because they cast it so damn well. Taraji is so captivating, how she imbues having to work in such an uncomfortable environment where people are clearly disgusted by having her in their presence. Then to see her stand up for herself, and make sure her voice is heard is so great, my heart filled and cried as she shouted the absurdity of her having to run from one building to another just to use the bathroom, how she had to drink from the coloured coffee jug that no one else wanted to touch. It is really powerful stuff and my god does it make you angry.
There is so much more here and I have really spent most of this discussing the plot and times more than the film, but really there is a lot here and it is a shame that until recently this story was never told, these women were never known by the common public and that for so long their glory was in the hands of white men.