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Yes, They Could!

Saturday, February 18, 2017
By Deepa Gahlot

Hidden Figures
Director:
Theodore Melfi
Cast: Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae, Kevin Costner, M, and others
Rating: * * * *

Get a group of women, throw them against impossible odds, watch them win, and walk out of the auditorium smiling and doffing imaginary hats, in spite of knowing that the unabashed populism of the film has deftly manipulated the viewer's emotions (recent Bollywood example - 'Dangal').

Theodore Melfi’s Oscar-nominated film, 'Hidden Figures' comes out at a time when Hollywood’s lack of diversity is being hotly debated — it is about a group of black women mathematicians working at NASA. Count the hurdles — women in pre-feminism America getting a college education, black women in times of racial segregation getting any decent education at all, and then brainy black women – how did they even get the foot in the NASA door?

The film opens with the three leading ladies by a car that one of them is fixing when a white male cop stops by. The women are understandably nervous, they show the cop their id and look on with resignation (how many times has this scene replayed in their lives) as he expresses surprise that NASA even employed black women.

However, there is discrimination even in those hallowed portals of science and technology—the black women work in a separate block, they have separate washrooms and in short, separate everything. And in the days before computers, the women who do all the calculations for the NASA space programme are actually called “coloured computers.”

At the time the film is set, the US is in a race with the then USSR over putting a man (they didn’t think women astronauts then) in space. Katherine Nobel (Taraji P. Henson) is invited into the all-white male den because of her mathematical skills, but is treated with disdain by all except the boss Al Harrison (Kevin Costner), who paces around like an absent-minded scientist, constantly eating. But he is also the one who, when he discovers that Katherine has to run all the way to another building to use the coloured toilet, goes and smashes the sign and utters an applause-worthy line, “Here at NASA, we all pee the same color!”.

Octavia Spencer’s Dorothy does a supervisor’s job, but the white establishment won’t give her the designation..

Whatever it’s flaws, if 'Hidden Figures' can’t be called feel-good, then nothing can!

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