DOCUMENTARIES are the message movies par excellence, providing windows on the human condition, views of the universe and challenges to issues. In 2012, “Time” magazine listed the 100 most influential people in the world. One […]
DIRECTOR Theodore Melfi’s second (after “St Vincent”) feature tells how three Afro-American women with hard-earned qualifications in mathematics and engineering made significant contributions to the gestation of America’s entry into the space race in a desperate effort to out-class the Soviet Union’s achievements.
The story is certainly worth telling. Playing the women are Taraji P. Henson as number-cruncher extraordinary Katherine Johnson (NASA later named a major research facility after her); Octavia Spencer as Dorothy Vaughan who got NASA’s first big computer to perform after the IBM team couldn’t; and Janelle Monae as Mary Jackson, the widowed mother of three kids who took a segregated university to court so she could take a degree in engineering that led to her making major contributions to John Glenn’s space capsule. In a sidebar, Mary married an army colonel played by Mahershala Ali (also currently appearing in “Moonlight”).
It tells well-known stories. It’s about being coloured and female in a profession hitherto the preserve of white males (led by Kevin Costner). It’s about America wiping away the egg that Sputnik smeared on its face. Performing those functions covers a broad span of time and place, compelling staccato treatment of the film’s content.
It’s an agreeable-enough movie. But I looked carefully through the cast and crew without finding who it was who crammed such a plethora of god-bless-America-coloured clichés into its fabric, thereby reducing what might have been a worthy Oscar nominee to rather a potboiler. We must assume it was Melfi’s co-writer Allison Schroeder, also an Oscar nominee.
At Palace Electric, Capitol 6, Hoyts and Limelight