The film, Hidden Figures, tells a tale of an overlooked team of African-American women who worked for the NASA program during its’ early years in the 1960’s. It’s a story of brilliance, struggle, and willpower to overcome the norms and standards in society through changing the way people look at women of color in science and technology fields. This film highlights major historic events such as frustrations and progressively changing attitudes towards segregation, as well as, John Glenn’s successful orbit of the Earth based on the contributions of three engineers: Katherine Johnson (played by Taraji Henson), Dorothy Vaughn (played by Octavia Spencer), and Mary Jackson (played by Janelle Monae). Watch the trailer below to check out this $220.2M Box Office hit released in January 2017.
I loved this film from beginning to end. It addresses issues on racism, sexism, and the expectations that society has set for both. It addresses breaking the boundaries of what is typical for situations of this time period. All these women made an impact towards their dreams and goals both personally and professionally. We see Katherine Johnson’s the most; starting with her getting placed in the office with lead mathematicians and engineers who were all white men. She was able to solves problems that they never could, which led the Al Harrison (played by Kevin Costner) to become curious about her ability to calculate considering that the conclusions she had drawn were based on classified information. Check out the clip below to see if Katherine was a Russian Spy or not… [SPOILER ALERT!!]
I died laughing when I watched this scene. Hidden Figures did a great job at portraying how white people in any industry will question the ability of an African-American woman. The greatest thing about this scene was not just the comedic aspect but the fact that she told the whole truth and was envied by a white male coworker the entire film because she was able to break mathematical grounds that he couldn’t. It’s very ironic when you see people who have privilege but don’t really deserve it because the privilege they have is not earned but given. It’s like they don’t even understand the gravity of the position they’re in and what’s important for them to do to think outside of the box, to be a creative problem solver, to be innovative. That’s not something that white people do, to be honest. (Yes that may be a biased opinion)… However, what have white people done that’s absolutely never been thought of before? Throughout history, most of their accomplishments were stolen from another race, country, and/or culture then miscredited as their own.
With that in mind, the greatest aspect of Hidden Figures that I appreciated was the recognition given to these African-American women for their contributions at NASA. It was represented well through various scenes, including the clip below where Al Harrison asks Katherine Johnson where she does all day for 30-45 minutes when he needs her to be working in the office on their project of getting the first man to orbit the earth. It shows that the creative problem solving and innovative spirit that Katherine brought to the team was not only inspirational but necessary to the project. [SPOILER ALERT!!]
What people don’t realize is that society needs African-Americans, Hispanics, and Asians because we all have different ways of doing things and thinking outside of the box. We are all different shapes, sizes, and colors for a reason. We all have something to offer each other. We are the human race.
In the scene you just watched above, Katherine focused on some key issues in her rant about bathroom breaks on the job like:
- the fact that there weren’t any colored bathrooms in that building or section of the facility which means that it was something nobody ever thought of installing due to segregation laws being in place at the time (and she can’t use a hand bike to get to the other side of campus, coloreds didn’t have access to that either)
- the colored women that do work for NASA have some of the hardest work ethic and don’t even get paid enough to buy a single pearl necklace that’s a part of the expected attire
- that due to segregation and her competitive edge that the white males in the office won’t even drink out of the same coffee pot as her or clean it for use by everyone
The best part about this scene is that once it changed frames to the next scene, Al Harrison was standing outside of a women’s restroom in that building and was breaking down the sign that said “whites only” with a metal pipe. The African-American women watched him, the white women watched him, and when the sign came crashing down he said, “here at NASA we all pee the same color.”
In the end, NASA was more accepting of having African-American women contribute to their successes than anyone of the 1960’s would have imagined or expected. After John Glenn’s orbit around the Earth project was completed as an accomplishment, Katherine was given a permanent place in the office with the white male engineers. She was a revolution for African-American women in engineering. She made her mark and paved the way for all, leaving a legacy that was well needed and continues today. The world needs more movies like Hidden Figures so we can see representations of intersectionality in growing fields. So we can see that everyone can do what they set their heart out to accomplish regardless of color, race, style, etc.