Theodore Melfi's (St. Vincent) film HIDDEN FIGURES, for which he has been rewarded with an Academy Award nomination for best picture, is a perfect Valentine to Black History Month. (See Melfi in 3rd photo from bottom.) Based on the book by Margot Lee Shetterly (below), whose father worked at NASA, it tells the story of Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson, at center, right), Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe, near right), and Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer, far right), three of many black women instrumental in the space race of the 1960's.
Melfi has a humorous touch and he humorously touches all types of racism -- institutional Jim Crow, polite naive racism (of which whites are all guilty at one time or another), and the insults of the nasty bigot. The film satirizes a catalogue of acts of discrimination, such as a tableful of white male heads swiveling as a black woman takes a seat. In a particularly memorable example, Katherine Johnson gets promoted from the black women computers group to the task force for space flight but finds that there's no segregated bathroom in the building. We see her dashing madly across the sprawling Langley campus to a segregated bathroom where she can relieve herself legally, though toilet paper and paper towels are in pitifully short supply.
Kirsten Dunst plays a chilly white supervisor who has no notion of her own unconscious racism; Jim Parsons (above, center left) is Paul Stafford, Head Engineer of the Space Task Group, a nasty competitive bloke at ease taking credit for work that isn't his. Boss Al Harrison (Kevin Costner, above, right, in another of his bland laconic good guy roles) only has eyes for the collective goal -- surpassing the Soviet launch of Yuri Gagarin into space. Harrison seizes on Johnson's genius at numbers and promotes her to the dismay of good-ole-boy engineers; also he knocks down the 'white women only' sign so his math star doesn't have to go missing running across campus to go to the bathroom. ("Here at NASA we all pee the same color.")
Pharrell Williams (below, left, with director Melfi), gaining him two Oscar nominations for songs, "Running" and "I See a Victory". (Williams wore two hats, also serving as a producer on the film.) He contributed 8 original tunes. Says A.D. Amarosi, Philadelphia Inquirer, "...Williams rises high; not just with sweet R&B appropriate to the Motown era and the optimism of the space race but with his usual sunny pop-hop, this time tinged with strains of gentle folk and sacred song."
Justin Simien's 2014 movie of the same title about a group of black students dealing with polite racism at a mostly white ivy league college -- another small step in 'the third reconstruction'.