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December 14, 2023
Peter Calder

Hidden Figures: Into the Spotlight (2 minute read)

My favourite kind of storytelling is shedding light on a person, place or thing that is underappreciated or unknown to most. The format of Hidden Figures—a scripted dramatic film based on actual events or people- is so vastly popular today.

Other films following this format are The Imitation Game, The Social Network, Air and Oppenheimer. Hidden Figures explores yet another important story that is under-appreciated and unknown: a story about three African-American women who worked at NASA in 1961 Virginia.

The film has utilized great messaging and themes through tone, giving the viewer some context on what it was like for these three characters working and living their lives under so many different hardships. Depicting the stark white male majority of the offices working for NASA was very informative to the characters' circumstances. It also used other simple insert shots, music, and tones to show segregation. They showed much difficulty they had to overcome from derogatory looks, being stopped by police, and having a separate, limited-access washroom.

Ultimately, the film ends very positively, with the value of these three women being acknowledged and shown respect. Small steps were taken to turn the tide of segregation in the story, with Kevin Costner's character prying a "Colored Ladies Room" sign off the wall. All the main characters succeed. Katherine makes the final calculations responsible for the launch's success, Dorothy brings her team full-time on the new work with the IBM computing machine, and Mary completes her final academic requirement to become an engineer.

The story's structure is fascinating; we follow these three characters, primarily Katherine Johnson, in their daily lives at home, commuting and then at work. It's always interesting to watch films showcasing the extraordinary nature of an individual, and Katherine, Dorothy and Mary are no exception. Their place of work, NASA, is a constant; it's a connector that helps bridge these three different stories throughout the film.

Bouncing between three storylines can help keep engagement throughout the story but can sometimes create complex confusion for the viewer. In this case, all three characters weave together, creating a unifying and satisfying overall story.

In terms of the production, the filmmakers used framing and costume design to show more of the theme of the division between these three women versus all the other workers at NASA. When Katherine is working in the room with all the white men and one woman, Katherine is always wearing a colourful outfit.

In contrast, everyone else usually wears white, black, or beige. This allows Katherine to pop into the frame. She sinks all the other characters into the matching walls and furniture surrounding her. There are also similar instances with Mary and Dorothy's characters. Angle positioning is commonly used to show the power divide; low angles pointing up at a subject represent strength and power, whereas a high angle pointing down shows someone in a weaker, less powerful position. The divide in power between Katherine and Paul's character shifts when Katherine's breakthrough equation is left on the chalkboard while she's away running to the bathroom. The angle of Paul looking at the equation is shown from a high position, making him seem less robust, as Katherine's brilliance finally becomes recognized in the film.

Overall, the film is packed with many important themes and messages that are very important to our society, and the production and story structure help make this film a satisfying favourite for a vast, wide-range audience.