When I sat down in the plush seats of my local cinema to watch Hidden Figures, I was fairly certain of what I was in for: an empowering, funny, positive representation of women in the workplace.
But within minutes it became clear; this movie is so much more than that.
The biographical drama, which was released in the US late last year and hits Aussie cinemas on Thursday night, follows the lives of three whip-smart African American women employed by NASA in the 1960s.
Directed by Theodore Melfi, Hidden Figures is 127 minutes of gripping, familiar, tear-jerking truth that drives home how deeply matters of race and gender penetrate society.
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The role of protagonist Katherine Johnson (played by actress Taraji P. Henson) is pivotal.
A widow with three daughters and the first “coloured” woman to assume a position in the company’s Space Task Group, Katherine’s doggedness to pursue a field specifically designed to exclude her is extraordinary. Everyday tasks like pouring a cup of coffee, or going to the bathroom, are made tediously difficult by processes of segregation, as repeatedly presented by the film’s producers.
Katherine’s capability as a mother is seldom discussed – because it needn’t be. Refreshingly, the film is aware enough to depict Katherine as a loving, caring mother not through her presence at home, but through her resolve at work, and her steadfast commitment to providing for her children.
Aspiring engineer Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae) and mathematician Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer) are equally impressive trailblazers. Together, the three represent the quintessential female friendship.
But the brilliance of this film does not lie solely in its dialogue, but in its ability to illuminate discrimination; and in doing so, educate its viewers.
Layers of feminism educate men in the cinema, who have not seen gender discrimination in the workplace so bluntly displayed before. Meanwhile, layers of racial discourse educate those who have never felt disadvantaged due to the colour of their skin.