This is a catch-up film review, because you, like me, may have missed this when it was released. In case that’s so, let me give you a gentle nudge towards it now. Although it came out last December, there are still showings happening in Britain, especially in some of the smaller cinemas. It’s worth a visit, on so many levels.
First, because it’s a great piece of entertainment. I watched this at our local church, where the sound quality was ropey, to say the least. We had subtitles, and at times I needed them. But I forgot that church pews are not comfy (even when you take along a big cushion) until the credits began to role, because I was carried along by the characters and their story.
Some of the reviewers in the British press haven’t liked this film, comparing it unfavourably with the book it was drawn from. I haven’t read the book, but after this, I will be looking out for it, so you may hear more.
I’m not sure I agree with criticism that the film foregrounds Kevin Costner. Yes, he’s the (entirely fictional) character who runs the project, and so he confronts a couple of racial inequalities (that never happened), but I never thought he did it for heroic reasons. My reading of his character was that he was so driven by the need to get to space that anything obstructing that route was going to be removed on those grounds. The only white male I saw take on racial inequalities was John Glenn, and he was, in this film, a secondary character.
Marie Hicks, in The Guardian, called the film limited. She says it, ‘straddles the line between allowing these women to be the protagonists of their story and crowding them out of the spotlight.‘ Not for me. Katherine, Dorothy and Mary were the centre of this film. To the extent that I forgot they were being portrayed by Taraji P Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe. I spent the few scenes they weren’t in wondering where they were and what they were doing, that’s how far I was involved in their stories.
I don’t care if some of the film detail is historically inaccurate. I think Theodore Melfi and Allison Shroeder have created a good drama. These were ground breaking black women who did achieve what is portrayed, but over somewhat different time-scales. I didn’t go to see a documentary, I went to watch a drama, and that’s what I got.
There was a great soundtrack, an unexpected amount of humour, and a lot of warmth. I felt the contradictions of that moment when at the same time as making scientific break-throughs, much of America was enforcing a shameful, often barbarically implemented social system of segregation.
To look back and see how recently this was happening is chilling. So, a few anomalies to make a point are acceptable in my book. I’d be glad to watch it again, tomorrow. Now how often can you say that?