NOTE: This review contains MILD SPOILERS for the film.
The personal IS political in this (based on a true story) film now playing widely in the US. I went to a screening last MON night (thanks to free passes via a movie Meetup). The director is Amma Asante; she previously made a big splash w/ Belle. This film has some of the same themes, BUT is set on a much broader/grander stage. The setting is 1947 in London, a place and time when interracial relationships were legal, yet NOT widely viewed positively. You’ll see old-school racism in some scenes, which could be uncomfortable for a modern audience.
Seretse Khama (Oyelowo), the crown prince of Bechunaland (modern-day Botswana), has recently finished his law studies at Oxford. He is articulate, cultured, and a good boxer (which comes in handy in one scene). One night, Seretse meets Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike), a clerk for an insurance company. She wasn’t expecting to meet anyone special when she tagged along w/ her little sister, Muriel (Laura Carmichael- Lady Edith in Downton Abbey), to a dance at a missionary hall. Ruth is a former WAAF ambulance driver and has a curious mind. They bond first over their idealistic views and love of jazz.
No man is free who is not master of himself. –Seretse Khama says to his tribe (when he returns home from England)
At that time, Bechunaland (a small, peaceful, yet poor nation) was a protectorate of England. The British government (incl. its reps, like Alistair Canning, played by Jack Davenport) was against the union of the Khamas, which went against the wishes of Seretse’s uncle (the prince regent) and South Africa (which had recently put apartheid into law). Seretse and his African friends consider apartheid as a “disease” which should NOT be allowed to spread.
There is exposition woven into the film; that can be clunky, BUT is needed to give the audience pertinent info. Anton Lesser’s Labour Party minister does a GREAT job w/ it in his (brief) scene, thanks to his deft way of conveying the words. I wanted to see a BIT more of the British minor characters, such as the journalist (Mr. Nash) and the liberal Labour Party members. As for the African actors, the woman playing Seretse’s sister did an especially good job.
As with Belle, the film is beautiful to look at visually. In the first section of the film (set-up/courtship), we see fog, clouds, and less saturation (b/c of the filter used). This is quite different from what we see when we go to Africa; the colors are much more vibrant and the sun (of course) shines brightly.
In my mind, this is NOT only a story of love, BUT one of commitment, which is becoming more and more rare in today’s world (no matter what race/national origin of a couple). In Seretse’s life, his marriage w/ Ruth was what propelled him into a fight with the British government, securing mineral rights for his people, and eventually- forming a democracy. Wow, this is SO much cooler than what went down w/ Edward and Wallis Simpson, right?
NOTE: This review contains SPOILERS for the film.
This is a crowd-pleasing Hollywood movie (which I saw w/ my mom 2 wks ago), BUT about a subject we’ve NEVER heard about- three professional African-American (then referred to as “Negro”) women at NASA in the ’60s. ALL the ladies give strong performances here; they have strong chemistry that makes their long-time friendship seem real. At the center is Katherine Coleman (Taraji P. Henson of Empire)- a former child prodigy, widow, mom of 3 young daughters, and mathematician. Her mind works fast, BUT working w/ the team of engineers (under Al Harrison- Kevin Costner in a low-key performance) prepping for the first manned rocket launch IS a challenge. Katherine grows in her job, gaining confidence and respect (even from racist senior engineer Paul Stafford- Jim Parsons of The Big Bang Theory).
In some ways, the film is traditional, esp. how the problems are wrapped up quite nicely. We get the feeling that MAYBE Mary Jackson’s (Janelle Monae) hubby, Levi (Aldis Hodge- star of Underground), is NOT all in for his wife working such long hours and becoming an engineer. However, there are moments where you want to cheer, b/c these ladies are succeeding w/ SO much stacked against them (in a segregated South- Langley, VA). Even going to the bathroom is a hassle, since the “colored” restroom is located on the other side of the large campus!
This story would NOT have been told w/o the 2014 book upon which it’s based by Margot Lee Shetterly. She is the daughter of a NASA engineer (her dad); she also grew up in the same town as these “human computers.” As a youngster, Shetterley knew these ladies as neighbors and fellow churchgoers. Yes, we are in the time before IBM was a household name, though eventually Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer) learns FORTRAN to program the new computer.
Don’t worry, you don’t have to be a math/science/history nerd to LOVE this film. (I personally liked the historical elements, esp. the clothes and cars.) One of my fave elements was the slow burn romance between Katherine and a National Guardsman, Major Jim Johnson (Mahershala Ali- also in Moonlight). “It’s very rare to see a black man pursuing a black woman” (as was discussed on the JAN 25th Slate Culture Gabfest). Henson and Ali have great chemistry. The surprise proposal/family dinner scene had me in tears!
Films like this are important, esp. today when certain world leaders are trying to close-up borders, restrict (legal) immigration, and creating unease (in anyone who isn’t straight/ white/Republican/ male). Why NOT take the example of astronaut John Glenn (Glen Powell) in this film? According to historians (and his contemporaries), Glenn was considered “ahead of his time” when it came to race relations. Though one of the white women supervisors tried to rush him inside, Glenn (who later became an Ohio senator) walked over to where the black computers were standing in the welcome line; they shook hands and chatted briefly. Without the combined work on dozens of black women, he would never have gone into space!