Tinashe Kusema The Big & Small Screen
THERE was excitement among “oppressed” groups of the world when news came out that two of the leading contenders of this year’s Oscar race were black films with a cast made up of people of colour.
The fact that “Fences”, and in particular its leading lady Viola Davis, went on to win was indeed icing on the cake.
Now the Oscars are done, focus will shift to who will win next. But please bear with me for holding you back a little.
This week’s piece is not really on “Fences”, Viola Davis, and the supporting actress débâcle. Instead, it is on the other leading black film, “Hidden Figures”, which tells the story of Katherine Johnson, an African-American physicist and mathematician, who worked tirelessly on the US space programme in the 1950s.
She played a key role in helping get Alan Shepard into space, scoring a key victory for the United States in the space race with the Soviet Union.
“Hidden Figures” seeks to tell that story through the eyes of Johnson (played by the vivacious Taraji Penda Henson) and her two friends Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae).
Their struggle is not about seats on a bus, using public toilets and stuff. The struggle was and continues to be about equality.
There is a thin line between an injustice and a struggle. An injustice is part of a struggle, but an injustice can never be a struggle.
I bring this up because I am tired of these silly racial films that confuse the two, a case in point being “Hidden Figures”.
The common denominator in these so-called race films is that they usually come from an uninformed perspective.
Eminem is loved by blacks because he did not adopt hip-hop and pander to black people by quoting Malcolm X or claiming to know few Black Panthers.
Eminem simply used hip-hop to express his own struggles and give people a dose of the demons he has had to fight.
Why can’t the movie makers get this simple lesson?
It is for this reason that I was immediately deflated when I read that “Hidden Figures” was written and directed by two whites, Alison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi.
Even after two viewings, it felt like I was reliving 2015 and the whole “Straight Outta of Compton” fiasco.
In essence, “Hidden Figures” was supposed to be about these three women’s contributions to the space race. I mean it says so in the title, “Hidden Figures”. Duh!
Instead, we get bucket loads of dirty white looks from Jim Parsons (Paul Stafford) and Kirsten Dunst (Vivian Mitchell).
These two are supposed to represent white supremacy, and despite having a considerable amount of screen time, they do not really do or say much. They just do their dirty looks and bored groans.
I think Taraji Henson, an incredible actress, was totally miscast. She brings too much “Cookie”, from Empire and lacks the necessary depth to pull off the role.
Schroeder’s writing was horrible.
I found the whole Johnson running to use the black’s restroom across campus, and her monologue at the end to be totally counterproductive.
Johnson does nothing mathematical or analytical in the movie, expect getting reams of papers dumped on her desk.
Spencer, as always is a breath of fresh air, and nails her part like a boss, while Janelle Monae kind of meanders her way through her scenes.
That is Schroeder’s fault.
Oh, and I almost forgot to mention that Kevin Costner is also in the movie. For a man of such talent, how could it be that his most notable contribution is the cheesy scene where he tears down the “Whites Only” sign on a restroom?
Ms Schroeder’s fault, I presume?
That said, because America is so in love with its post-racial society myth, “Hidden Figures” did exceptionally well at the box office, grossing at least US$214 million from a budget of about US$24 million.
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