Friday, February 17, 2017


Hugely Inspiring!

3.5 stars

Mini Review:

During the space race in the late fifties and the early sixties when Russia had already put Yuri Gagarin in space, NASA was still struggling to get the math for it’s space program right. This is the story of three pathbreaking African American women who broke many a glass ceiling and convention contributed to the success of the American Space Program. Brilliant and inspiring.

Main Review:

This is the time when the state of Virginia still practised segregation and the Black protests for equal rights were seen everywhere. In such volatile times, three friends: Katharine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn and Mary Jackson, with three of the sharpest mathematical minds, are working as calculators at the Langley headquarters of the American Space Program. Yes, they’re part of a West Computers Group that did all the hard work of crunching numbers, a thankless task since as Katharine Johnson notes, the ‘goalpost keeps shifting’.

Katharine Johnson is catapulted into the main office of the space program where she is merely a person who is to ‘double check’ calculations made by the men in charge. In fact, she has been told to not say a word, and try to work from redacted material because other things are ‘above her clearance’. But fiery Katharine cannot be put down, because numbers don’t lie. She is the only colored person in the entire building and soon, the boss Al Harrison (Kevin Costner, who looks as young as he did in The Bodyguard) recognises the value of her work. Taraji P. Henson is so good, you become indignant for her when she is denied simple rights like having coffee from a machine, and people like Paul Stafford (Jim Parsons, who needs to find himself a different kind of role other than his Big Bang Theory TV show persona) who are racist and competitive and treat her badly.

Dorothy Vaughn is played brilliantly by Octavia Spencer, and her character too deals quite pluckily with racism thrown in her path. When she steals a book from the library, you will want to tear into the screen and hug her. She is well aware of her rights and the rights of her fellow ‘human calculators’ and she makes sure nobody is left out. You heart swells with pride when she stands squarely in front of a racist official Mrs. Mitchell played understatedly by Kirsten Dunst and says she is not going to leave her group jobless.

Janelle Monae plays Mary Jackson who works in the engineering department and the people who work with her recognise her talent, and encourage her to get that engineering degree. It is an uphill task but she is tenacious. In a world where Black people were still sitting at the back of the bus, she manages to convince a White judge to get her permission to study.

These amazing stories have been made into such a beautiful period film (yes, a movie set in the 60s is now considered a ‘period’ film) with wonderful details given to costume and colors and furniture and design. You are transported into the world held together by these plucky women who will not give in. In fact, this film should inspire more girls to take up math and computing and generally be proud of being intelligent. As Katharine says, ‘Because I wear glasses.’

(this review appears on nowrunning dot com)

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