It’s another collaboration with Stephen Brown  of Silver Screen Capture. I read the book, we both saw the movie. I’m reviewing the book, he’s reviewing the film, and we both answered a few questions.

If you haven’t heard of Hidden Figures yet, you will. The film is getting tons of buzz- more than the book did, I think, when it was released in the fall of 2016. In fact, if I recall correctly, the film rights were optioned before the book was even finished.

I’m writing the first part of this review before I see the film. Hidden Figures, by Margot Lee Shetterly, tells an important story: the story of the women of color who performed critical mathematical computations that not only ensured a technological aviation superiority in WW2 and beyond, but also put our astronauts safely in space- and more importantly, safely home.

In an era where these women could not even use the same restrooms as their female counterparts, where they could not sit anywhere they wanted to in the Langley cafeteria, where they were in any and all definable ways second class citizens, they directly influenced the course of American history.  And until now, most of us had no idea about it.

From the minute I found out Hidden Figures existed, I wanted to read the book and promptly ordered it.  I really wanted to love it, the same way I want to love the film.  But I’ll be  honest, getting to love the book was a tedious process.  Until about halfway through the book, I just wasn’t connecting with it.  I was reading about these women, and was impressed with their intelligence and gumption, but I didn’t feel like I was seeing much of them.  The best comparison/contrast  I can come up with TheAstronaut Wives Club, set in the same general timeframe, about the women behind the Mercury and Apollo astronauts.  With The Astronaut Wives Club, I felt a warmth and humanity about the women, like I was really getting a glimpse of who they were.  That  same feeling, for me, is missing from Hidden Figures until about halfway through the book.  The turning point for me came when we began to delve more deeply into Katherine Goble Johnson.   For some reason, at that point, I began to connect more with all of the women and their story.   From there, I was engaged in the story and at the end, felt the book was a solid enjoyment that I highly recommend.

I saw the film Hidden Figures. And I did love it.  I freely admit I nearly teared up at the end. The film did precisely what I expected it to do- make you root for Dorothy, Mary, Katherine, and the other ladies from the first moment of the film.  It humanized them in a way the book took longer to do.  But like most film adaptations, it missed nuances and backstory you get in the book, so I highly encourage you to read the book and see the movie.

Because this is an important story- important for so many reasons.  It’s important because so many girls are still taught that to be smart and to be good at math are unattainable or undesirable things.  It’s important because we still have a long way to go with full equality and respect between the races. We may no longer have institutionalized, legal discrimination, but, to paraphrase Dr. Horrible,  the status is not quo with respect to race and ethnicity in this country. It’s important because we are living in a country where an appalling  number of people deny or doubt science.  We live in a country where the national desire to achieve scientific advancement and a sense of pride in our scientific achievement just isn’t there any more.

The surest way to combat ignorance is to read. Read things that teach you about other people and cultures. Read things that show true courage and heroics.  Read things that show this courage and heroics in everyday people who challenged themselves and convention.

This, this is how we more forward.  And this is why you need to read Hidden Figures.

Here’s the Q and A with me (TBF)  and Stephen from Silver Screen Capture (SSC)

Question: What made this an important story to tell?

TBF: It’s an unknown or unrecognized part of history that celebrates minority women for major achievements, despite so many odds being stacked against them. It makes science and math heroic activities performed by smart women.

SSC: The film is even more groundbreaking than its makers may have even known, what with glass ceilings, bathroom controversies and stereotypes still plaguing Modern America. The real-life characters were presented in a reverent, almost saintly portrayal. I almost wish the chronicle of their struggles had been a bit more visceral. These women were true trailblazers.

Question: What key points made it an effective tale to read or enjoy in the movie theatre?

TBF: For me, reading the book, it was the reminders of segregation and that the women had to do so much more than white men to be seen as credible, even approaching equal. And the reminder that a success and advancement for any of these women was a victory for African-Americans as a whole- they were fighting for themselves and their community.

SSC: The film valued sentimentality over genuine suspense. I found it approached the characters at surface level from a bit of a safe distance. But there are so few movies presenting such positive portrayals of women or African-American women that one can look past wishes that it would be a little less color-by-numbers.

Question: What characters fared the best in the translation?

TBF: Katherine Johnson the best, I think. But really all three main characters- Dorothy, Mary and Katherine. The movie gave them a more vibrant personality that may not have always translated on the page, but all three were drawn true to the core aspects of the women in the book.

SSC: Octavia Spencer’s Dorothy, in her bootstraps quest to become a supervisor, had the most satisfying story arch.

Question: How did the author/director bring history to life?

TBF: The importance of the NACA and NASA missions- what it took to advance our fleet of aircrafts for military purposes, of course. But then the most important part was the effort to keep our astronauts safe. I’ve always loved stories of our first astronauts and the courage they must have had to take on something so new. But until now, I hadn’t really thought about all the effort and work it took behind the scenes, and Hidden Figures really explores that aspect.

SSC: The actresses were superb, but I feel the director could have provided meatier material. We know going in that it’s a rather untold story, yet I’m still not sure I got in the veins of the characters to truly understand their verve and passion. Movies like this can have a slightly wax museum quality about them. I loved the story and even applauded at the end along with my fellow late-night theater-goers.