Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Fillum review: Hidden Figures

I’ve been very impatient to see Hidden Figures and so I recently went to my first ever Cineworld Unlimited screening. I’m a big fan of Janelle Monae and have been really looking forward to seeing if acting is something she excels at as well (spoiler: yep!).

20th Century Fox

Hidden Figures focuses on three black American women in the 1960s who work for NASA as computers (people who compute – yeah, that’s where that word came from!). The three main characters are based on real life women - Katherine Goble (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer), & Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae) - who are working at the height of the “Space Race” between the USA & the Soviet Union.

There was a lot more laughter than I expected, with each of the leads feeling very familiar and identifiable, and quite modern in their attitudes to their own personal success and self-worth. Though on the outside the issues they encounter could broadly be put down to racism (and sexism), I really enjoyed the portrayal of three very different women, each fighting their own separate battle in their own individual way.

Though based on true experiences of the three women, the story is definitely dramatised, with timelines being shifted in order to provide all three leads with satisfying arcs which did not, in real life, take place at the same time.  In the cursory reading that I have done since seeing the film, the women in real life seem even more impressive than their fictional counterparts, so the changes made in the film are not exaggerating anything that the women did not actually achieve. I feel like there is still more story to be told about all three of these women, so it makes sense to condense some of their biggest achievements into the space of one film.

Something I liked less about the film was the attempt to make the white characters “redeemable”; without going into detail, I didn’t think it was necessary (or, let’s be honest, realistic) to have some of the white characters, such as Katherine’s & Dorothy’s bosses (Michael Keaton & Kirsten Dunst, respectively), be redeemed by their actions as soon as they suddenly realise that the women they work with are actual humans. Excuses are often made that these “white saviour” elements are added to ~challenging stories so that white people don’t feel maligned by the portrayal of the people they can most easily identify with. I can understand why it might be difficult for Joe Public to identify with NASA mathematicians, but the white characters are no more socially or intellectually accessible, and I think it is a cop out to imply that all of the women’s obstacles are removed once their white colleagues are made aware of the struggles that they face. In media, it’s frustrating that people of colour seem to have to exist in relation to white people, when their full stories can be told without an allied white person in sight.

20th Century Fox

In my own cinema experience, I found it jarring and disheartening that, while there were many moments intended to illicit laughter, the audience in my screening also laughed at the “separate but equal” coffee pot set out for one of the main characters when she is the only black woman in an office full of white men. I understand that laughter can mask or imply discomfort, but it also made me consider that some people really may not have sat with and absorbed the realities of that time, and therefore it may be more difficult for them to see the remnants of this discrimination in present day.

On a lighter note, Pharrell’s soundtrack had me bouncing in my seat (the song over the end credits is especially striking), the clothing in the film was beautiful and I covet it all, and Mahershala Ali is very, very easy on the eyes (and ears).

I would highly encourage everyone to see Hidden Figures – a PG film about smart women empowering themselves. It has been out in cinemas since 17 February 2017, and if you’re interested in preview screenings like the one I went to, you can sign up to Cineworld Unlimited using my Recommend a Friend code, and we both get a free month paid subscription, worth over €20. That code is RAF-70EL-68QZ-16WK-03XG.

Are you looking forward to Hidden Figures? What other films are you looking forward to over the next few months? Moonlight & Prevenge are both next on my list!

1 comment:

  1. That was a very well phrased review, and will be looking forward to reading more. I found that people in general seem to laugh at moments that are discomforting, but it is also hard to distinguish, what they are implying by the laughter. Gets you thinking about that laughter could cause some else's discomfort.