After the uproar over the lack of diversity at last year’s Academy Awards, African-American cinema and the wider topic of race relations have very much been in the spotlight this year. Following Best Picture winner Moonlight and Best Picture nominee Fences (both showing onboard), two of this month’s new films look at different black lives shaped by the upheavals of the 1960s.
Based on a non-fiction book by Margot Lee Shetterly, Hidden Figures is about three African-American women who played pivotal roles as Nasa mathematicians and engineers during the US-Soviet space race in the early 1960s. Despite facing discrimination in a racially segregated society and in a workplace dominated by men, the three women excelled in their fields and made important contributions to the US space programme. Their personal battles play out during the peak of the civil rights movement.
The film is not entirely faithful to its source material – Shetterly’s book has more characters, a slightly different timeline and fewer dramatic moments – but director Theodore Melfi and co-writer Allison Schroeder have made a rousing crowd-pleaser that pays overdue tribute to the scientists. In addition to excellent performances by the three leads – Taraji P Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe – a supporting roster including Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst, Mahershala Ali and Aldis Hodge also helps to make this one of the best ensemble casts of 2016.
Jeff Nichols’ Loving also looks at the long fight for civil rights from a micro perspective. The film follows Richard and Mildred Loving’s seven-year legal battle to have their interracial marriage legally recognised in their home state of Virginia, at a time when miscegenation was considered illegal there and in 15 other US states. Their case went all the way to the Supreme Court. Its decision, in 1967, ultimately invalidated all laws prohibiting interracial marriages and was evoked during the more recent debate surrounding the legality of same-sex marriage in the US.
Nichols eschews melodrama, instead letting the story unfold slowly and quietly. Influenced by his own marriage, the director captures the couple’s affection through small, seemingly mundane moments. The Lovings are depicted as gentle, low-key people who prefer to stay out of the spotlight even as their case makes history. Yet, Nichols has crafted a beautiful, stirring film filled with hope and, indeed, love.
Simon Cuthbert is Cathay Pacific’s product manager – entertainment and media sales