Hidden Figures

The music in Hidden Figures is by Hans Zimmer and Pharrell Williams, a combo that goes a very long way to describing how this movie makes you feel: WONDERFUL. Zimmer, that orchestral boffin who gave us the instantly classic Pirates of the Caribbean score, brings it on the epic and exhilarating and heart-stirring, and Pharrell, who rose to fame on a song literally called “Happy”, just bursts in like a skinny Kool-Aid man splashing energy and style and hope all over the place.

Hidden Figures is a movie you tap your toes along to. Bouncing with the melody of it, in mirror neuron sympathy as Katherine races top-speed across the NASA compound with a stack of folders full of equations, jittery with nerves as the rockets strain toward the stars.

Actually, I think I can stretch for a metaphor here, I think this big feel-good tear-jerker is just strong enough to support it — you might be able to anchor this whole movie in the feet of women.

Mathematicians Katherine Goble, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson wear heels to work. They are required to. The “uniform” of the women who work at NASA is brought up in the script on multiple occasions: skirts to the knees, sweaters preferred to blouses, no jewelry except a string of pearls — if you can afford them — and heels.

We see those heels a lot. Raining across the pavement in a rapid staccato every time Katherine is forced to run through the compound, clipping through the halls as Dorothy leads a phalanx of black “computers” to a new job.

And once early on, trying to literally drag Mary down when her heel gets stuck in a grate in the floor of a wind tunnel.

“No shoe is worth your life,” the lead engineer urgently intercoms from behind the glass as the fan picks up speed (this is the movies after all), and so Mary just ditches the thing, rushes in to safety, and then throws the other one off and dashes right up to the window to watch the experiment. Later, when she’s back out on the floor impressing her new boss with her natural instincts for engineering, she does so with her feet firm on the floor, heel still visibly wedged in and abandoned in the lower corner of the frame.

Forgive me my analogies, but society has so long sought to restrict the movement of women, and women of color especially. In Hidden Figures, all these figurative and literal constraints are held up to the light. And in Hidden Figures, these brilliant black women, battling against both racism and sexism with grace and flame, show they already have everything it takes to stand tall.


I was trying to describe Moonlight to a friend after I got back from the theater.

I told her critics are probably calling it lyrical and graceful, which it is, even though it’s the story of a great violence.

I told her it was a bildungsroman, but that was a stall; I told her it was the story of a black gay man growing up Miami.

I told her it was the movie embodiment of its poster, that it too is striking and beautiful. Beautifully constructed, beautifully colored.

I told her that I cried.

And that the first time I cried was watching little Chiron, when he was still Little, being taught how to swim by his kind and complicated father figure, a drug dealer, floating on his back in the ocean while Juan cradles his head and promises that he has him, that he won’t let him drown — and knowing that the rest of the world is not making this promise.

I cried on this beach again, under the moonlight, where black boys look blue, and I cried at the end, long after Little had become Black, at this moment built of the two that had come before, Little looking back, Black and blue.

It becomes increasingly hard to describe. It is not a hard movie, but it is about hard things.

What is strengthening about Moonlight, what makes you feel clearer and brightened after your tears, isn’t from watching the events that take place, but from being able to watch them at all. From being able to go to a movie theater and watch this story, and watch it told with a magical unguarded delicacy.

In the end, I’m not sure if I can describe Moonlight. But Hilton Als has written about it, so go see it, and then go to him.