In its first weekend in wide release, “Hidden Figures” came within $200,000 of overthrowing “Rogue One” as number one movie in America, despite being in 1,500 fewer auditoriums. The phenomenon suggests a mystery. How was it that a film about three black women struggling against racism to help put the first American into orbit in the early 1960s became such a smash hit in Donald Trump’s America? To listen to the media, this unexpected popularity should be impossible in a nation divided by racism and sexism that just elected a monster as president.


Besides the fact that “Hidden Figures” was a well-acted, well-directed movie that told a compelling story, a number of reasons for its popularity exist.

The three most important characters triumph over the odds through individual achievement

American audiences like nothing better than stories of underdogs who prevail despite overwhelming odds. The three most important characters, African American women born in the segregated south, face slights both minor and gross as they struggle for the right to help put John Glenn into Space. They triumph through their superior intellect, courage, and occasional good humor.

Who would not fall in love with people like that?

The white characters are not stereotypes

The white characters in “Hidden Figures” were not stereotypical, knuckle dragging racists. Their attitudes were informed more by ignorance than evil and each, in their turn, achieves some form of redemption. The best sequence occurs when Kevin Costner’s character, a NASA manager, discovers that segregated bathrooms exist at the Langley Center. Since this situation is interfering with the goal of beating the godless Soviets to the moon, he takes direct action with a crowbar.

John Glenn, of course, is an all-American hero, unsullied by any vices or bigotry.

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The movie is set during the early space program

The Apollo race to the moon, with the exception of a few cranky libertarians, is looked upon by the overwhelming majority of Americans as a time of glory and a source of pride, giving the movie a theme of patriotism. It was not always so. Apollo only polled well during the Apollo 11 mission to the moon. In fact, the launch of Apollo 11 was marred by a civil rights protest, irony of ironies. Things turned around for Apollo’s memory because of another film, Ron Howard’s

“Apollo 13.”

It should be noted that “Hidden Figures” was snubbed by the Golden Globes.

One can only hope that the Academy Awards does not make the same mistake.