Out of the main Oscar contenders this year, this one feels like it’s getting the least attention but La La Land, Moonlight and Manchester by the Sea are hard to compete with. Based on the story of a team of African-American women mathematicians working for NASA, serving a vital role in the launch of astronaut John Glenn into orbit, a major step in the space race for America. Directed by Theodore Melfi, starring: Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe, Kevin Costner, Jim Parsons, Kirsten Dunst, Aldis Hodge, Glen Powell and Mahershala Ali.
This may be simply my experience but this film is extremely emotional from the minute it begins, it may be a story of struggle and pushing for what you want but it’s also about talent, pride and gifted people, as well as those trying to reach their potential, against those trying to stop it. Of course the film mostly centres around Katherine Johnson (Henson) because she connects each part of the story and characters together, she isn’t however the strongest performance, that honour goes to Octavia Spencer which isn’t surprising news given her string of nominations this year. The real strength is all three leads together, Henson, Spencer and Monáe, it’s such a joy to watch three intelligent and strong women on the big screen, it helps that their chemistry is like watching old friends. Also helped by music provided by Pharrel and Hans Zimmer, an unusual combination of musicians but it definitely gives the film a great energy and liveliness that’s fun to watch.
As each obstacle arises for these women, every time they try to get ahead some reason is thought of to push them back down, despite being most likely accurate, if a little kinder than it probably truly was, it feels ridiculous that they were treated so badly, that they weren’t just allowed to do their jobs, that they were extremely good at. Which of course is the strong message of the film, that you shouldn’t be restricted based on the colour of your skin or your gender. As well as being an extremely positive and well timed message, it’s charming and funny, there’s a lightness to it despite the rampant negativity that these women experience, which is an advantage in opening the film up to be totally inclusive for any age but it also restricts it from cutting deeper and having more of an impact on the audience. Yes it is emotional but they are tears of joy for seeing such important women being portrayed on the screen and their brilliance, the racist and sexist behaviour is there but it’s done rather politely, which you have to assume it wasn’t at the time, or even now in some places. It is however extremely stylish, not only with the fantastic costumes and hair and make-up but with the way it’s shot, with some great and memorable moments as these women slowly get what they deserve.
From the outset this felt like a film that be moving and profound but it doesn’t quite get there, it skirts around the edges and never quite hits hard but it still manages to be meaningful in a heart-warming and easy to watch way. It’s also a film that’s clearly a huge team effort, it’s not one person, it’s a great group of talented people all coming together which is pleasing to watch. It’s a fun and hopeful film with an amazing message and it’s a pure joy to watch such strong African-American female role models on the big screen, something that hopefully will be more common in future.