What a wonderful, wonderful film! Here is a PG movie we can all be excited about. It features a team of African-American women who served as mathematicians (they were originally called "computers") for NASA's first space missions. IBM's new Univac was being evaluated for possible use.
Director Theodore Melfi ("St. Vincent") worked with Allison Schroeder to create a screenplay based on Margot Lee Shetterly's inspiring book which reveals an untold true story from the pages of American history. It opens with a bright little girl naming various types of triangles, but we are soon in Virginia a few years later with a Chevy that has broken down alongside the road. We quickly learn there will be a LOT of humor.
Here is a small part of Melfi's terrific cast:
- * Taraji P. Henson ("Empire") is Katherine Johnson, the shyest of the trio we come to know. She is a widow with two daughters who specializes in analytic geometry (Google it!). Her mother helps with childcare so she can work. We quickly see that Jim Crow is alive and well in Virginia at that time as we watch her cope with the simplest of needs, like coffee and a women's restroom.
- * Octavia Spencer ("Fruitvale Station") Dorothy Vaughan helps her colleagues move on while she seems to be stuck. She can't get a promotion, but she DOES have access to a library!
- * Janelle Monáe ("Moonlight") We can count on Mary Jackson to add an attractive mix of sex appeal and brains to the situation. Her presentation to the judge is brilliant!
- * Aldus Hodge ("Leverage") Levi Jackson is mystified by Mary's work but is distracted by the civil rights movement which is gaining momentum under the leadership of Rev. Martin Luther King.
- * Kevin Costner ("McFarland, USA") NASA Project Head Al Harrison may have some initial misgivings, but he needs a brilliant mathematician who can double-check his engineers' work! I love what he says about restrooms at NASA.
- * Jim Parsons ("The Big Bang") Paul Stafford can't stand the idea of his work being checked by a woman, and a Black woman to boot! He does a great illustration of the need for analytic geometry during a space shot (they have to calculate where the astronaut should come down).
- * Kirsten Dunst ("Fargo" 2016 TV) Vivian Michael wants to promote Dorothy, but, 'There's nothing I can do; you know the rules...'
This is PG, so expect a humorous script with no sex, no profanity, no gunfire and the blowie uppie stuff is limited to a few of the early (unmanned) rocket launches at NASA. Sputnik, Laika and Yuri Gagarin have officials at NASA tearing their hair. As Harrison puts it, "We came in second in a two-man race!" We applauded the wrap up after the closing credits because we were so satisfied by what we learned.
See this film and take along any school children who need to be reminded of the value of education.