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Dir: Theodore Melfi (12A, 127 mins)

The untold true story of the black women behind NASA’s race into space is stirringly told in this excellent drama, anchored in its central trio of actors. Back in the 1960s, America was still divided by colour and gender, women were there to make coffee and run errands whilst men did the real work. However, in NASA three women were about to make a difference – Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn and Mary Jackson, played here by Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae. They pressed to be involved in the launching of the first American into space, John Glenn, as competition with Russia got political. Johnson’s mathematical skills would plan his orbit and re-entry to Earth, Vaughn’s computing skills would crunch data, and Jackson would become a pioneer in engineering. They were the best people for their jobs but had to overcome racist and sexist attitudes to get them. Johnson was not even allowed to use the toilet in the same building as other NASA employees due to her being African-American. It’s a sad but ultimately uplifting tale given great heft by the strong performances from the three women, and also from Kevin Costner’s NASA boss, Jim Parson’s bad Sheldon Paul Stafford, and Kirsten Dunst as the women’s quietly racist superior. Hard to believe this is what the world was like 60 years ago, although based on some stories currently coming from America, maybe not.

Opens Feb 17

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