‘Hidden Figures’ Overtakes ‘La La Land’ in Earnings and Proves We Might Be Okay

Since its release was announced, the modern-day, Los Angeles based, movie-musical La La Land has been a critical darling—and how could it not be? Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone playing semi-star-crossed lovers/down-and-out performers in Hollywood all while singing… But like, singing for real. Like, on the day. Seriously, this movie was tailor made to be beloved by the Academy.

And it worked. La La Land  is tied with All About Eve and Titanic for the most Oscar nominations to a single film (14) in history. It won more Golden Globes than any other film in history (seven a.k.a. in every category it was nominated for) as well as eight Critics’ Choice Awards, a SAG award, the top prize from the Producers Guild of America, and garnered eleven nominations from the British Academy Film Awards. Needless to say, Hollywood people love this movie—and so does the public.

The public just doesn’t love it as much as they love Hidden Figures.

Despite the fact that La La Land has already won more awards than Hidden Figures was even nominated for, the latter has officially unseated the former as the current top box-office earner domestically, despite being released two weeks later.

That’s a big deal.

For starters, Hidden Figures is the first film with more than one female lead (Octavia Spencer, Taraji P. Henson, and Janelle Monáe all take top billing) to stay at number one for more than a week since 2011’s The Help—which seems impossible, I know, but it’s true. Equally important is the context of Hidden Figures’ incredible box-office success despite the fact that it’s long been thought by executives that “movies with black casts don’t perform well.”

Although there is plenty of evidence to the contrary (Moonlight, No Good Deed, and Fences all released in 2016 beg to differ), the belief that films featuring people of color (or women, for that matter) are somehow “niche” has persisted for some time. The fact that Hidden Figures, a movie about the forgotten contributions (and OG #BlackGirlMagic) of America’s black, female mathematicians and engineers, outperformed an escapist Hollywood-centered musical filled with white-washed nostalgia at the box-office flies in the face of that kind of thinking—and says something about the changing face of our country and what we want from the media we consume.

While La La Land might take home all the top prizes from the industry (and, listen, it was a great movie, don’t get me wrong, like, zero shade to La La Land), American viewers sent a clear message about what they want from their movies… And it’s not La La Land.

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If you think back to the origins of Hollywood, film was meant to be an escape. The extravagant movie-musicals of the 1940s—the ones that La La Land pays homage to— were meant to be luxurious and aspirational, but that approach has somewhat faded over the years. As time went on, realism in cinema became more and more celebrated. Moviegoers began to want stories that they could connect to and still do . Perhaps that’s why La La Land has garnered so much praise in artistic circles, while Hidden Figures has gotten the same from larger audience.

You know what’s not relatable to most Americans at the moment? An often surreal and dreamy, too-good-to-be-true, romantic-romp through the Hollywood hills. You know what is? An underdog story that touches on issues of race, gender politics, and overcoming barriers to do the seemingly impossible.

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The stellar performance of Hidden Figures says something good about where we are headed. It has already led to an uptick in young girls participating in STEM programs. It has shown (once again) that movies centered on the narratives of people of color are, in fact, lucrative, beloved, and important. It has shown that films centered on women are also of interest to viewers.

It’s also shown that, as much as we like the escape of La La Land and other movies like it, we like the inclusiveness and celebration of diversity in Hidden Figures more.

And that’s a really, really good thing.