Dir. Theodore Melfi. Screenplay: Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi. Cast: Taraji P Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae, Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst.
127 Mins, 2016, USA
Taraji P Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae star as Katherine Goble (later Johnson), Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, three African-American women employed as ‘computers’ (mathematicians) at NASA in the early 1960s who proved themselves essential to the Space Race and the launch of astronaut John Glenn into orbit, in this heart-warming and inspirational film.
It’s quite shocking to realise how recently the brutalities of racial segregation were considered the norm. The film emphasises the everyday humiliations imposed on black people: Katherine Goble, transferred to the central control room in another building on the NASA site, has to run half a mile back to the basement where the other black ‘computers’ work in order to use the only lavatory on site that is not for whites only.
The support the women give each other and the support they get from family and community is shown as essential to their survival and their overcoming the odds. The film ends with photos of the three real-life women in old age, recognised and honoured by the scientific community if not by the nation at large.
Definitely feel-good in these non-feel-good times.