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Laramie Movie Scope:
Hidden Figures

Shines a light on some rocket women at NASA

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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December 6, 2016 -- This is a movie about black women called “computers” in the parlance of NASA the early 1960s while the U.S. was locked in a space race with the Soviet Union. This race was so important to the country that for once, brains and math skill won out over prejudice.

The movie, based on a true story as told in the book of the same name by Margot Lee Shetterly, is about three women in particular, a mathematics genius, Katherine Johnson, along with Mary Winston Jackson one of the first black women to become an aerospace engineer, and Dorothy Vaughan, one of the first black women to program large mainframe computers in America.

All three of these women ended up working at NASA during the space race, and this film tells their story. Katherine Johnson (played by Taraji P. Henson of “Top Five”) along with Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson all worked in the “Colored Computer” section at Langley Research Center at Hampton, Virginia.

These black women didn't use computers, at least at first, they performed calculations by hand, and with primitive adding machines. Because of her math skills, Katherine was promoted to the Guidance and Control Division of Langley's Flight Research Division and later to the Spacecraft Controls Branch because of her skill in analytic geometry. In the film, her skill was such that astronaut John Glenn would not get in the rocket until Katherine had confirmed the flight path of the first orbital mission.

Mary Jackson (played by Janelle Monáe of “Moonlight”) broke numerous barriers in order to become an aerospace engineer despite legal problems and administrative resistance from her boss at NASA, Vivian Michael (Kirsten Dunst of the early “Spider-Man” movies). Despite virtually no support from her family, she plows ahead with her ground-breaking career.

Dorothy Vaughan (played by Octavia Spencer of “Bad Santa 2”) sees that electronic computers are the wave of the future, so she studies the programming language Fortran, and puts herself and her fellow black women employees, in position to take advantage of the new IBM mainframe computer being installed at Langley.

Kevin Kostner plays Al Harrison, head of NASA research at Langley. He gets several juicy scenes where he makes inspirational speeches, rights wrongs, and integrates some Langley facilities with the use of a sledgehammer. Jim Parsons of “The Big Bang Theory” plays against type as the resentful, jealous, uptight mathematician Paul Stafford who works closely with Katherine.

The story is compelling and the acting is very good in this historical drama about three women who got ahead against very long odds. This film rates a B.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2016 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)