What it is: A nonfiction period piece about black women working in NASA’s space program in the early ’60s.
Hidden Figures is straightforward and conventional but well-made. It feels very much like it was supposed to be part of the cultural bridge from the Obama era to the expected Hillary Clinton era, and it makes one wonder if this sort of film will still get made under the Trump administration. Not just because it revels in the accomplishments of women and people of color (I doubt that thread of American pop culture will disappear, regardless of the everyday realities experienced by people offscreen) but because it is a movie that trusts societal process and the idea that the arc of history bends toward justice. Early on, Janelle Monáe’s character is told by her husband that the job NASA has given her is too good to be true, because he’s a radical and he doesn’t believe that white people will ever voluntarily cede true power to blacks, but we’re clearly meant to disagree with his perspective: The film’s most important image is Taraji P. Henson’s character being handed a piece of chalk, first by a childhood teacher and then by Kevin Costner’s white mentor figure. I wonder if this relatively optimistic view of racial progress will survive in the mainstream.
I should also note that this film contains the line “Here at NASA, we all pee the same color,” which got a round of applause at the screening I was at. Pee’s having a pop cultural moment, I guess.