There are specific and powerful images throughout Hidden Figures, but none exemplify the central theme of Theodore Melfi’s film more than two shots of a piece of chalk held by the main character. This pregnant extension of Katherine Goble’s (Taraji P. Henson) brilliant mind is both an invitation for her to prove herself as a black woman in a world of white men, but an implicit challenge by those same men that she could never be their equal. Though they are not connected dramatically, her struggles and successes are thematically connected with the successes of her peers, so that each separate woman’s respective strides become reverberations of the others, until the resulting din screams a single poignant truth: the quality and content of a person’s mind is not determined by race, gender, or anything else so superficial.
Barry Jenkins’s film Moonlight is a Romantic masterpiece of the highest order. It is a comprehensive exultation of self-discovery told in three sections, each detailing the events in the life of Chiron, a black gay boy growing up in the Liberty Square projects of Miami, Florida. The three parts show Chiron at different ages: as a young boy in part one (“Little”), a teenager in part two (“Chiron”), and a young man in part three (“Black”), and each version of Chiron is portrayed by a different actor. Chiron’s life is full of hardship, as he is forced to deal with growing up poor, navigating the minefield of his mother’s drug abuse problem, and his burgeoning homosexuality. The chapters of Moonlight add up to a magnificent and timeless whole: a complex elucidation of a man and the choices he makes in effort to learn about himself, the world, and his place in it.