Octavia Spencer portrays Dorothy Vaughan in “Hidden Figures.”

I’m thinking that this year’s Oscar parade is going to have a good deal more “color” than previous years. Here’s one reason: Theodore Melfi (“St Vincent”) has finally brought to the screen a story that is so old, even the oldest of us can’t remember.

I’m betting that even in the black communities few know that a mass of black women led, we’re told here, by three courageous women, helped put John Glenn into orbit, and projected America into the space age.

Those three women, mathematicians Katherine Goble (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae) began their careers working for NASA in the computer offices in the Hampton, Virginia, field office. Remember that this was 1962, when the stink of Jim Crow still hung in the air even in the nation’s Capital.

These women, and the flock of hardworking, well-educated black women they nurtured, toiled away the hours in what appears to be a series of connected basement rooms. They were not in the center of the action, but rather a half mile from the Space Task Group where the director of the process, Al Harrison (Kevin Costner) sat with his crew in a more comfortable, air-cooled modern building watching the Soviet Union, who just celebrated Sputnik, get ready to be the first nation to not only orbit the earth, but maybe put a man on the moon.

Harrison is surrounded by a brigade of head scratching white men (and I think three white women) in white shirts and black ties, uniform crew cuts, horn-rimmed glasses and shirt pockets full of pens. They’re all engineers and really smart, even though they sort of look like Sears Roebuck washing machine salesman or Rotarians out for lunch. Then, one of the white supervisors (Kirsten Dunst) volunteers to enlist the help of Katherine Goble, a widow and the mother of three equally smart (you would be too if Goble were your mother) little girls.

This opens the movie up to a semi-documentary series of racial episodes: Goble is given tons of work already proofed by white men, and her own coffee pot (because white scientists won’t touch anything she touches.) Then, to go to the bathroom, Goble has to run a round-trip jaunt of one mile, even if it’s raining.

Then there is Mary Jackson, the youngest and more “movie starish” of the trio, who has to attend classes at a white high school to get her engineering degree. Even then, she has to go to court to get permission to go to the all white school.

The fun grows when Vaughn (Spencer) wanders into a computer room where white guys can’t figure out how to work the brand new IBM machines. Vaughn spends an hour here alone, and solves the problem. A black “girl” showing up white guys? How is that possible?

The all white group discover that Vaughn is smarter than they are and that’s a tough capsule for them to swallow, but they do swallow it. When one after another mathematical/engineering problem topples after being touched by these women, they’re forced to applaud.

But this is not a Disney classic. Racism and snobbery abound, many tears are shed — but the three black genius amigos rise above the herd of crew cuts and smartly dressed prejudicial white women supervisors.

Other familiar hidden figures pop in and out: “Moonlight’s” Mahershala Ali, Kirsten Dunst, “Big Bang Theory’s” Jim Parson, and a very large parade of small parters who make up a fun, exciting and historic film.

Director Melfi’s directorial baton provides some heart breaking moments and a cascade of joy in the finale.

The ubiquitous Hans Zimmer provides the music, along with a touch of “Happy” composer/entertainer Pharrell Williams.

My question is: Why did it take so long to get this on the screen? Watching the three leads kind of answers the question.

J.P. Devine is a former stage and screen actor.

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