Tag Archives: Taraji P. Henson

Hidden Figures – Movie Review

I thought I knew everything about the space program and the first Americans to land on the moon, but low and behold something new. Hidden Figures is the story of three brilliant African-American women: Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe). Taking place at the beginning of the 60’s Civil Rights Movement, these women played a vital role in the space race against Russia.

Release Date: January 6, 2017
Writer: Theodore Melphi
Director: Theodore Melphi
Cast: Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe, Jim Parsons, Kevin Costner

In the early 60’s, computers were a new thing. So new that even NASA did not have a computer. The high-level calculations required to successfully launch a man strapped to the front of a rocket, get him into orbit and find the right trajectory to bring him home safely was left to a small pool of mathematicians. This mathematician was Katherine Johnson played beautifully by Taraji P. Henson. Johnson’s job was to double-check the work of the NASA engineers.

Johnson faced several challenges. As important as her work was, Johnson lived in the segregated United States. She couldn’t drink coffee from the same pot of co-workers and the only colored bathroom was on the opposite end of campus. Her work was also hampered by the top-secret material she was asked to work on and a great deal of information she needed was redacted with a large black marker. Also, her department was far behind in its work and the Russians were outpacing the U.S. to space. Outside the box thinking was needed to create the math required for safe space flight.

The only bright spot is the project team leader, Al Harrison (Kevin Costner), whose job was to find the math by any means. The goal was the prize and it didn’t matter who or what came up with the solution as long as the solution could be found.

While the film focused primarily on Katherine Johnson, there was also Dorothy Vaughn who worked in the pool of American-American office temps. While she worked there, she was really the one in charge and served as the administrator of that pool. The problem was she was asked to do the work of a manager, but without the title of manager nor the salary of one. Her requests for promotion turned to the dear ears of her supervisor, Vivian Mitchel (Kirsten Dunst).

Finally, there is Mary Jackson, who is assigned to engineering specifically by it’s team leader, Karl Zielinski (Olek Krupa) because he saw in Mary Jackson the tools necessary to become a NASA engineer. Jackson’s problem was that she did not have the education needed for the job and the education she needed could only be obtained from a whites-only school.

Hidden Figures hits a lot of notes. First, it’s an inspiration film about an inspiration story. The 60’s was a time when you could not sit around and wait for someone to rescue you from adversity. You had to rescue yourself. For Johnson, Vaughn and Jackson, they fought for their place in history. They fought hard and succeeded (Spoiler Alert!)

Hidden Figures is also a civil rights and women’s rights film. History shows that the most unreachable goals, like landing on the moon, cannot happen if you leave it to just the white men. You have to expand your circle of knowledge and creative thinking, especially when your answer does not lie with someone of your same gender or ethnicity.

Finally, Hidden Figures is a math movie. Nerds and geeks rejoice, math was just as cool in the 60’s as it is today (Not sure this is the most convincing statement).

Hidden Figures manages to overcome the problems that many biographical film face. The story moves smoothly and does not feel like a series of one happy event to the other. The moments of character revelation feel real and the moments of heroism from Johnson, Vaughn and Jackson don’t feel heavy handed. Although my favorite line from the movie comes from Costner’s Harrison character, “At NASA, we pee the same color.”

Fine acting. Films like Hidden Figures succeed with you have great actors in great roles. These fine actors help build the credibility of the people they portray. The lead actresses, especially Henson, manage to bring dimension to their roles and create three distinct characters. Each actress fights through her individual problems uniquely.

Hidden Figures is an amazing story about the mission to the moon. A story that until now would have gone unnoticed. It’s also a film of inspiration. The lesson to keep fighting to be who you were meant to be.

2017 Film Independent Spirit Awards Winners Announced

Film Independent, the nonprofit arts organization that produces the Spirit Awards and the LA Film Festival, handed out honors to Moonlight, The Witch, Other People, Manchester by the Sea, Elle and Hell or High Water at this afternoon’s 32nd Film Independent Spirit Awards. Spa Night, O.J.: Made in America and Toni Erdman also received awards at the ceremony, which was held in a tent on the beach in Santa Monica. In addition to being the celebration that honors artist-driven films made with an economy of means by filmmakers whose films embody diversity, innovation, and uniqueness of vision, the Spirit Awards is the primary fundraiser for Film Independent’s year-round programs.

The ceremony aired live today on IFC and a rebroadcast will air later this evening; please check your local listings for times. An on-demand version of the Spirit Awards will also be made available for Sundance Now members shortly after the telecast concludes. Clips from the ceremony will be available on Film Independent’s YouTube channel after the show.

Over the past 32 years, the Film Independent Spirit Awards has made a name for itself as the premiere awards show for the independent film community. Artists who have received industry recognition first at the Spirit Awards include Ava DuVernay, Justin Simien, Ryan Coogler, Joel and Ethan Coen, Spike Lee, Oliver Stone, Ashley Judd, Robert Rodriguez, David O. Russell, Edward Burns, Aaron Eckhart, Neil LaBute, Darren Aronofsky, Spike Jonze, Charlie Kaufman, Hilary Swank, Marc Forster, Todd Field, Christopher Nolan, Zach Braff, Amy Adams, Lena Dunham and many more.

This year’s major winners were Moonlight, which won Best Feature, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Editing and the Robert Altman Award; The Witch, which won Best First Feature and Best First Screenplay; Manchester by the Sea, which won Best Male Lead; Elle, which won Best Female Lead; Hell or High Water, which won Best Supporting Male; Other People, which won Best Supporting Female; Spa Night, which won the John Cassavetes Award; O.J.: Made in America, which won Best Documentary and Toni Erdmann, which won Best International Film.

The 10th annual Robert Altman Award was given to one film’s director, casting director and ensemble cast. Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight received this award, along with casting director Yesi Ramirez and ensemble cast members Mahershala Ali, Patrick Decile, Naomie Harris, Alex Hibbert, André Holland, Jharrel Jerome, Janelle Monáe, Jaden Piner, Trevante Rhodes and Ashton Sanders.

The 2017 Roger and Chaz Ebert Foundation Fellowship, which includes a cash grant of $10,000, was awarded to Project Involve Fellow, Jomo Fray. This annual award is given to a filmmaker currently participating in a Film Independent Artist Development program with the mission of diversity in mind. Film Independent also awarded the inaugural Turner Fellowship, which includes a $10,000 cash grant, to Project Involve Fellow Kady Kamakate. This generous three-year commitment from Turner Broadcasting, Project Involve Lead Sponsor, will enable Film Independent to provide an even deeper level of support to talented filmmakers from under-represented communities.

The following is a complete list of the winners:

Best Feature:
Moonlight (A24)
Producers: Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Adele Romanski

Best Director: 
Barry Jenkins, Moonlight (A24)

Best Screenplay:
Barry Jenkins, Tarell Alvin McCraney (Story By), Moonlight (A24)

Best First Feature:
The Witch (A24)
Director: Robert Eggers
Producers: Daniel Bekerman, Jay Van Hoy, Lars Knudsen, Jodi Redmond, Rodrigo Teixeira

Best First Screenplay:
Robert Eggers, The Witch (A24)

John Cassavetes Award (For best feature made under $500,000):
Spa Night (Strand Releasing)
Writer/Director: Andrew Ahn
Producers: David Ariniello, Giulia Caruso, Ki Jin Kim, Kelly Thomas

Best Supporting Female:
Molly Shannon, Other People (Vertical Entertainment)

Best Supporting Male:
Ben Foster, Hell or High Water (CBS Films/Lionsgate)

Best Female Lead:
Isabelle Huppert, Elle (Sony Pictures Classics)

Best Male Lead:
Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea (Amazon Studios)

Robert Altman Award:
Moonlight (A24)
Director: Barry Jenkins
Casting Director: Yesi Ramirez
Ensemble Cast: Mahershala Ali, Patrick Decile, Naomie Harris, Alex Hibbert, André Holland, Jharrel Jerome, Janelle Monáe, Jaden Piner, Trevante Rhodes, Ashton Sanders

Best Cinematography:
James Laxton, Moonlight (A24)

Best Editing:
Joi McMillon, Nat Sanders, Moonlight (A24)

Best International Film:
Toni Erdmann (Germany and Romania– Sony Pictures Classics)
Director: Maren Ade

Best Documentary:
O.J.: Made in America (ESPN Films)
Director/Producer: Ezra Edelman
Producers: Deirdre Fenton, Libby Geist, Nina Krstic, Erin Leyden, Tamara Rosenberg, Connor Schell, Caroline Waterlow