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Movie of the week

Sunday, 19 February 2017 | Meenakshi Rao

Hidden Figures

Cast: Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe, Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst, Jim Parsons

Rated: 7/10

This gentle but little known Afro-American tale buried in the segregation issues of deep southern America is the feel good movie of the week.

This inspiring tale of three Black women and their fierce and path breaking struggle for identity in NASA’s ambitious space programme of the 60s is heart-warming even though America’s bleakest and most squeamish race issue is on display.

The three Black women — a mathematician who is now 98 and still alive in real life, an aspiring space engineer and a programming mind in days when IBM was struggling to structure its first computer — are entirely fleshed out characters with distinct stories but singular problem.

Katherine, a single mother raising three daughters, has the mind of a calculator who lands in the scientific room of NASA’s top docket programme to send the first man in space.

Run by the eccentric workaholic Al Harrison, played to perfection by the seasoned Kevin Costner, this department is in a rat race against the Soviet Union to be a pioneer in space walk. Katherine, the first Black woman to enter this all-white, all-man haven is naturally a shock entry for one and all. Besides, of course, being treated with contempt because of the colour of her skin, and of course, her gender, she also has to battle the day to day odds of being unwelcome.

She has to run at least half a mile to just relieve herself because she can use only the coloured bathroom which is in another block. She has to sip coffee from a segregated mug. And she has to act like deadwood furniture without any brains.

Her showstopper outpouring to her boss about the bathroom takes her a notch above in situational performance than her two friends Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson.

Not that they are not fighting battles no Black has ever won despite the anti-race rallies gaining momentum on the side. While Vaughan, the programmer, is the leader of black women “computers”, she is denied the supervisor’s post due to colour. She can figure out what the IBM needs, but isn’t even allowed to go to the white library for a book she needs for her children!

Then there is Jackson who is as bothered about her lipstick as she is about her dreams of becoming an aeronautical engineer. No Black woman has ever dared to dream that position but she moves heaven and hell — and the all-white court — to win a case against the State to get admission to an all-white college meant to train engineers.

Amid all these struggles, the film ambles along and gives you so many heart-warming moments that you feel like being with these women for a much longer time. A true story, truly moving in a hopeful kind of way.

 
 
 

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