Movie Review: Hidden Figures

Published on 2017-02-21 by Stuart Spence

Hidden Figures is a 2016 movie about the 1960s space race, the early days of computation, and segregation. It's an uplifting movie - described by some as "cheesy". However the cheese serves to distinguish it from other films in its genre which are typically very dark and gritty. It's an underdog trio movie about science and achievement. I highly recommend it!

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Who should see this movie?

People interested in space exploration, geniuses, achievement, or computers. Also, people who scoff when a movie says "based on a true story" because they wish directors were honest about history.

The Good

Imagine this cliché scene: A police cruiser pulls up to a car on the side of the road. Car troubles. The police officer steps out of his cruiser - a large white man. The passengers of the car are minorities or women or both, now concerned. In film I've seen many variations on this scene. Sometimes the police officer smashes headlights, arrests someone pointlessly, assaults someone, rapes someone, or maybe he's just an asshole.

That's not how Hidden Figures handles this cliché scene. The cop's antagonism reverses when he realizes the three women are involved in defeating the Russians. In Hidden Figures it's amusing to see all the different ways people can confuse themselves with their conflicting value systems.

Even racists would rather defeat the Russians than be racist.

Most of the characters in this movie are genuinely and unapologetically passionate about science, computation, and space exploration. Nobody jokes about how they hated math in high school, nobody apologizes for being smart, and there isn't a hint of anti-intellectualism. I can't think of a single other movie with these themes that does this.

Finally, I think a lot of love went into this film. There's a lot of creativity, nuance, accuracy, and variety in the production.

The Bad

I don't have much criticism, although I wish that somehow, maybe, they could have spent more time on the themes of computation and mathematics. But frankly I'm just thrilled to see a book on Fortran (a computer programming language) have so much screen time. It was in three scenes for a total of maybe fifteen seconds. That's got to be some kind of Hollywood record!

Attempts were made to blur movie footage and historical footage. This involved adding graininess to footage filmed in 2016, or retouching real footage from the 1960s. However the effects were inconsistent and unconvincing.

I think the movie shied away from better developing Dorothy Vaughan's story because computer programming is too technical for a large audience. This is easily forgivable. But it's a simple reminder that even movies that feel like they were made just for me, were not made just for me.


With movies like The Imitation Game coming out and the success of Hidden Figures, I hope to see more movies like this soon. Maybe something about Grace Hopper or Richard Feynman? If you're interested in history, space exploration, geniuses, achievement, or computers, you should see this movie!