It’s the early 1960’s in segregated Virginia. The United States was shocked when the Soviet Union launched Sputnik and was further humiliated when Yuri Gagarin went into orbit on April 12, 1961. This film, based on the book by Margot Lee Shetterly, tells the true story of three remarkable African-American female mathematicians who made huge contributions to the space program, eventually resulting in John Glenn getting into orbit.
Katherine Johnson (Taraji Henson) is a mathematical genius! She is working at NASA along with her two brilliant friends, Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae – whose great figure isn’t “hidden”) and Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer). Katherine gets the opportunity to work with the top NASA mathematicians, trying to figure out the math to get the rocket and space capsule into orbit and then back to Earth. She isn’t shown any respect (and neither are her two friends) due to her race and being female, but eventually her genius gets recognized by the the Director of the program, Al Harrison (Kevin Costner). Along the way, her two friends also succeed and achieve historical firsts for African American women.
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Although primarily focusing on their work at NASA, the movie also explores each of their personal lives. The film dramatically highlights the racism and sexism of the early 60’s, such as “colored” bathrooms and libraries and African Americans not being admitted to engineering grad schools. Although primarily a historical drama, the movie has considerable humor. The ensemble cast is excellent, including Kirsten Dunst, who plays Dorothy’s boss, Vivian Michael. I also think Henson deserves an AA nomination!
This is an excellent movie and will probably be in my Top Five Films of 2016! It is MUST SEE! Although we still have a ways to go to end racism and sexism, I think most Americans would agree that we’ve made progress in the last forty five years.