Now more then ever seems the perfect time for Hidden Figures. Not only is the film a celebration of the achievements of science, but it is a powerful story about the advancement of both women and African Americans. Added to this is the need for the Academy to rectify the #Oscarssowhite debacle, and Hidden Figures' release is timely. It also contains three cracking lead performances and a lightness of touch that makes it the perfect award season crowd-pleaser.
The film tells the story of three lesser known members of the NASA space programme and their work helping to launch the first American, John Glenn, into space. Delving into their lives, it charts their struggle for advancement in a era of segregation and open bemusement at the idea of a woman having a key role in any industry, not least at NASA. One of the film's great strengths is that it finds the human side to the civil rights battle, and tells individual stories that are defined by that person's determination to succeed in the face of immense barriers. Here the struggle is for the most basic right of a toilet in your area of work, access to degree-level education and the ability to drink from the same coffee pot as your Caucasian worker. These are all shown (and more) and small acts of defiance drive the film forward.
At the film's centre are a trio of outstanding performances from Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer (nominated for Best Supporting Actress) and Janelle Monáe. They have a tremendous chemistry together and are the emotional core of the film. They are surrounded by a strong supporting cast including a wonderfully brisk Kevin Costner and a soulful performance from Mahershala Ali (proving once again why he is so deserving of his Oscar win on Sunday). But without these three performers the film would struggle to engage the audience so much.
Certainly Hidden Figures is a slick drama, far removed from the stylistic experimentation of Moonlight. It comes with a perky soundtrack crafted by the music titans Pharrell Williams and Hans Zimmer, and its script often chooses humour over melodrama. But then beyond the mainstream trappings is a film dealing with powerful issues, willing to show the rage born out of segregation. This is also a film where the central characters are all women, allowing the film to comfortably pass the Bechdel Test. Hidden Figures is proof that there can exist "issue films" that are thoroughly enjoyable watches.
Certainly America needs a film like Hidden Figures. While it doesn't shy away from the pain caused by discrimination, the film still lifts up the idea of American advancement. At a time when America seems more divided than it has for decades, Hidden Figures shows that there is a way past this moment. The fact it does this whilst being a mightily enjoyable film is all the more reason to seek it out.