2016 Certificate: pg

Synopsis

The inspiring true story of three mathematically gifted African-American women who overcame racial prejudice to play a crucial role in the US space race is recounted in this uplifting yarn. Taraji P Henson, Janelle Monae and the Oscar-nominated Octavia Spencer play the trio who indomitably face down the double whammy of institutional prejudice at NASA as well common or garden sexism in their daily lives in the early 1960s age of segregation. Project boss Kevin Costner strives to balance the equation. A genuinely feelgood winner.

Director

  • Theodore Melfi

Cast

  • Taraji P Henson

  • Octavia Spencer

  • Janelle Monáe

  • Kevin Costner

  • Kirsten Dunst

  • Jim Parsons

  • Mahershala Ali

Review

It's just as well that the NASA scientists working to put an American astronaut in orbit didn't share the tooth and claw racism outside their compound in segregated 1960s Virginia.

Because crucial to their effort to get the edge in the space race against Russia was an essential collection of uber-numerate African-American women known dismissively as the "colored computers".

However that's not to say NASA didn't have a supremacist culture. It just manifested itself at its Virginia research complex more as passive racism as opposed to Klan-like hysteria.

Navigating the hurdles of this grim oppression are three mathletes who have to overcome in their own way an overwhelmingly white male establishment minded to put them in their place and leave them there.

Katherine (Henson) is the child maths genius who's now obliged to sprint half a mile to a 'Colored Restroom' every time she's caught short while working out complicated equations in a room full of resentful number crunchers.

Dorothy (Spencer) is the matronly overseer of the "colored computers" who's constantly passed over for promotion to supervisor, a slight that's unpleasantly relished by her female manager (Dunst).

Bright and feisty Mary (Monae) constantly seeks advancement and openly challenges Virginia's school segregation laws (even taking her case to court) to pursue her dream to become a fully fledged engineer.

Director Theodore Melfi's option for a brazenly feelgood formula could have easily undermined what a quite brutally obstructive status quo these women were facing up to. But - thanks to trio of terrific performances - this is never an issue.

Every way they turn - from coloured-only coffee jugs to segregated public libraries - they challenge and rethink their strategy, helped in no small measure by Kevin Costner's NASA director, a gruff authoritarian who, nonetheless, has no truck with racism

In one of the film's most memorable scenes he tears down a "coloreds only" cloakroom sign and announces "Here at NASA, we all pee the same colour."

Tim Evans