“Hidden Figures,” directed with style by Theodore Melfi, is an engrossing historical drama outlining the roles that three African-American women played at NASA when John Glenn was rocketed into orbit in 1962. It also places the audience front and center on how racial discrimination penetrated the South at that time, something that was seen in 2016’s “Loving.”
In that regard, any white movie fan should try to see this powerful film in a theater where the audience is predominantly African-American. I saw it in a packed theater at the Georgetown Cinema in Indianapolis, and I was the only Caucasian in the crowd. It was rewarding to hear black women repeatedly laugh, cheer and moan throughout the entire movie, not to mention clapping loudly at the end.
And there were multiple reasons to do so. To begin with, the three African-American women, played by Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe, were brilliant young mathematicians who NASA employed to try to conquer problems so that the United States could get a man into space. Given that the Russians had just done so with Yuri Gagarin, our government could not tolerate allowing the Soviet Union to circle the globe with unknown intentions.
Much as he did in last year’s “McFarland USA,” Kevin Costner tackles a role that highlights ethnic and racial tensions in our country. Here, he plays Al Harrison, the head man of the NASA group, and he is forced to confront racial prejudice manifesting itself in many ugly ways, not the least of which were bathrooms for “colored” people isolated blocks away from offices where our ladies worked. It wasn’t so much that he was a fan of Martin Luther King Jr. as he simply needed to make sure that African-American women’s jobs were not impeded by working conditions.
Spencer is phenomenal playing Dorothy Vaughn, the matron trying to guide her two younger colleagues. Henson appears as Katherine Johnson, a math expert who fought to be recognized in an office where everyone else was white. Finally, Monáe plays Mary Jackson, a smart and sassy woman with an engaging sarcastic personality. She played a strong role in this year’s “Moonlight,” as did Mahershala Ali, here playing the suitor of Henson’s character.
I also need to mention the daring performance of Kirsten Dunst. In a departure from her normal roles, here she plays the team leader of the black employees, viewing prejudice as nothing more than a law that needed to be quietly honored.
Glen Powell plays the late John Glenn, a future astronaut without a bone of prejudice in his body. He wasn’t remotely concerned with the skin color of people working on his flight as long as NASA allowed the most competent people to work on the success of his journey.
While “Hidden Figures” focuses on Glenn becoming the first man to orbit the Earth while nearly dying on his descent, you also get to see firsthand a historical demonstration that our country has never fully been the “land of the free and home of the brave.” Tragically, racial disparity continues to poison our country.
“Sing” solidifies 2016 as the greatest year for animated films ever, and I do mean EVER! Think of it for a second. Begin with “Zootopia,” which will challenge for an Oscar in this category. Not far behind are “The Secret Life of Pets,” “The Jungle Book” “Kubo and the Two Strings,” “Finding Dory,” and “Moana.” “Sing” is every bit as enjoyable.
To begin with, given its PG rating, adults will love it almost as much as kids of any age. The songs are killers from beginning to end, and all of the characters are funny beyond words. Add a bit of drama that will come to close to bringing a tear to your eye and I really could end the review at this point.
All of the characters are animals, and it begins with Buster Moon, a koala voiced by Matthew McConaughey, who is attempting to save his theater from foreclosure. In the process, he sponsors a song competition where his loveable, dingy assistant Ms. Crawly (voiced by Garth Jennings) mistakenly advertises the grand prize as being $100,000 instead of $1,000.
Hundreds of singers show up to compete, and a smile will never leave your face. The characters are voiced by a cast ranging from Reese Witherspoon, Seth McFarlane (naturally playing a bit of an egotistical jerk), Scarlett Johansson, John C. Reilly, Taron Egerton, Jennifer Hudson and others. The strength of the film flows from the fact that you really don’t care who wins the contest. Many of these singers are simply looking to carve out some self-respect in a cruel world, and it is that goal that elevates this wonderful film to a totally unexpected level.
I don’t know if “Sing” will out-duel “Zootopia” for an Oscar award, but it should be one of the nominees, and I can’t wait to see how one of the songs is performed on the Oscar stage by a group of these loveable characters.•
• Robert Hammerle practices criminal law in Indianapolis at Pence Hensel LLC as of counsel. When he is not in the courtroom or the office, Bob can likely be found at one of his favorite movie theaters. To read more of his reviews, visit www.bigmouthbobs.com. The opinions expressed are those of the author.