On Monday, America remembered the efforts of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. On Friday, I learned about the work of a few “Hidden Figures.”
The film, which takes place in the early 1960’s, is a testament to a few NASA employees’ progressive efforts during the Civil Rights Movement.
Doesn’t ring a bell? I’ll give a few more details that likely won’t make the image more clear—female, African American mathematicians who calculated the first American up to space.
Katherine Goble (Taraji Henson) was always a talented student, jumping straight from sixth grade to high school. As an widowed adult with three daughters, Goble takes on a full-time position calculating for NASA in the west all-black wing of the Virginia campus. She is joined by aspiring engineer Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) and acting supervisor Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer). The film is based on the true stories of the trio’s journey.
The women come to NASA during a pivotal time. The Soviets have just launched Sputnik, and a competition is brewing between America and the U.S.S.R. Perhaps, the trio are there for such a time as this.
If you’re looking for an inspiring and empowered film, this the one for you.
Math genius Goble receives an assignment as a computer for the Space Task Group, where she becomes the first female African-American member of the all-white engineer group.
The men take insult to their director’s command that she check their work. They set out a “colored” coffee pot for Goble, who must run half-a-mile back to the west side of the campus every time she needs to use the bathroom. Assignment doesn’t mean inclusion.
Through consistent performance, Goble earns approval from her director and favor with a key astronaut. Her peers can’t deny her intelligence, which could a strong contributor to getting an American in orbit.
Jackson is also breaking barriers, fighting the court to allow her to take engineering classes at an all-white school. (Despite the 1953 Supreme Court ruling, Virginia schools are still segregated.) When the installation of an IBM computer threatens her team’s jobs, Vaughan trains herself to become a computer programming expert.
The film peaks at the launch of the Friendship 7, which happened in 1962. The world watches, and the women calculate.
“Hidden Figures” shatters race and gender prejudices alike. The stereotype that African Americans are inferior scholars — Goble and friends turn that opinion on its head. The concept that females can’t do math? Please see above.
The only solid critique I can offer for the film is its decision to half-heartedly fulfill the seemingly obligatory love story found on each movie’s check list. Goble becomes a Johnson, an event prefaced in the film by the pair’s first meeting, an unconvincing sequence of several dates, their first kiss, and an engagement. I understand this was done for time’s sake, but I do wish more time could have been devoted to the development of their relationship. It felt more like a check off than a complete aspect of the film.
Walking out of the theater, I couldn’t help but wonder how many more hidden figures there are behind the success stories of history. I hope Hollywood keeps uncovering them.