Want to go to the movies to be entertained and feel good; but feel you've spent your money on seeing something worthwhile? You can't go past the inspiring Hidden Figures.

Based on a true story, Hidden Figures introduces three women I can't believe we haven't met already - Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson. These African-American women worked at Nasa during the early 60s - and not as cleaners, but as "computers" in the segregated West Area Computing unit.

Katherine G. Johnson (Henson) was a brilliant mathematician who calculated the trajectory for Alan Shepard, the first American in space. Her friend Dorothy (Spencer) led the West Area Computing Unit with one eye on the future, ensuring her team stays relevant when IBM move their computers into the building.

The feisty Mary Jackson (Monae) was a mathematician with a gift for engineering and worked in the Supersonic Pressure Tunnel. Determined to become Nasa's first female engineer she had to complete extra-curricular math and physics papers run by the University of Virginia. Which was a challenge as lectures were held at the whites-only local high school.


Loosely based on the book Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly, the period setting for this story couldn't be better. Lagging behind the Russians, the pressure on Nasa to get a man into space was immense. These women lived through the Space Race, but also the Civil Rights movement, the Cold War, and the movement for gender equality.

It makes for a thrilling mix. There's the tension and thrill of the space race, the passion of the civil rights movement, and the friendships which deliver the story's warmth and spirit - as well as the perfect underdog story.

Mary, Dorothy and Katherine are surrounded by a collection of largely fictional characters, some composites of real people who worked at Nasa during the time. They represent the prejudice that existed during the era, but most, conveniently perhaps, have an epiphany regarding their segregated workmates before the film is out.

Life for these woman was undoubtedly more complicated than represented by director Theodore Melfi (St. Vincent), and Hidden Figures can't help but wrap itself up in a happy ending, but the glossy delivery can be forgiven as this is a story that deserves to reach as many people as possible.

These three incredible women broke down race and gender barriers at Nasa, and remind us there's more than one way to invite change. Their approach? Stop whining about things; do something about it. There's something in that for all of us.

4 stars
Cast: Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae
Director: Theodore Melfi
Running Time: 127 mins
Rating: PG (Coarse language)
Verdict: A feel good, entertaining and inspiring yarn.