I have looked forward to watching today’s best picture nominated film. The rainy afternoon presented the perfect opportunity to stay indoors and view film 7 of 9 on my list, Hidden Figures.
Hidden Figures stars Taraji Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe, Kevin Costner, Jim Parsons and Kirsten Dunst. This historical drama was directed by Theodore Melfi and carries a PG rating for mild language. It has a run time of 2 hours and 7 minutes. Hidden Figures was nominated for three Oscars including Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Supporting Actress for Spencer and Best Picture. It did not win in any category.
This based on true events story follows three amazing African American women as they offer their brilliance to NASA during America’s race to space in the early 1960s. While bringing their intellect to the space program they struggle with racial discrimination, gender inequality, and long hours spent working away from their families.
Katherine G Johnson (Henson) was a child mathematical genius who graduated from college at age 18 with degrees in mathematics and French. She works with her friends Mary (Monáe) and Dorothy (Spencer) in West Area Computing division, which is segregated from the rest of the Langley Research Center Campus. The women are computers, doing complex math computations and calculations on paper.
Because of her ability to do analytical geometry, Katherine is moved to the Space Task Group, headed by Al Harrison (Costner). He has been charged with the monumental task of getting a man into space as quickly as possible, as Russia is already there. She works closely with head engineer, Paul Stafford (Parsons), who resents Katherine joining the all white, all male team.
Mary Jackson wants to be an engineer. She is reassigned to work with male engineers as they figure out how to protect the space capsule from overheating upon re-entry into the atmosphere. Her supervisor encourages Mary to get her engineering degree even though there isn’t a school in Virginia that will allow her to complete the classes she needs. Her only option is to petition the court to allow her to be accepted.
And Dorothy Vaughn is working as the supervisor of West Area Computing, without the official title or the compensation. She has frequent conversations with her supervisor, Vivian (Durst), about being recognized for her work and paid accordingly, to no avail. She is told it just is what it is. Dorothy recognizes the threat that the newly installed IBM computer poses to her future at NASA, as well as to her team of female computers, and sets about learning to program the massive machine by reading a library book and studying the computer at night.
As these women give their best to NASA, they encounter injustices such as having to use “colored bathrooms”, even when the nearest facility is half a mile away, segregated coffee pots, and constantly being told “women aren’t allowed…”. All the while, the clock is ticking as the date approaches when the first American astronaut is scheduled to orbit Earth.
This was a phenomenal story that kept me engaged and hopeful throughout the movie. I am amazed that I had not heard of Katherine, Mary and Dorothy before the release of this movie. I was a wee girl during these events and grew up with a fascination for the space program.
It grieves me that these incredible women endured so much discrimination because of the color of their skin and their gender. I realize it wasn’t just these women. Sadly, such injustices was directed toward all people of color. I greatly admired the attitudes presented by these female geniuses at NASA. They abided by the “rules” as best they could, while quietly, and sometimes not so quietly, working to bring about change.
And so Katherine challenged the “no women allowed” rules by appealing to her supervisor, whom she knew to be a fair man. She used the bathroom that was half a mile away until an opportunity arose to explain her long breaks, and then she spoke with searing passion.
Mary spoke up when some thought she should remain quiet. And took her desire to attend a white school, to receive the credits needed to be an engineer, all the way to court. She won that right. Dorothy took it upon herself to step into the future she knew was coming, and learn a new way to compute. She not only prepared herself for what was coming, she secured the future for the other women as well, at last earning the title of supervisor.
I appreciated that at the end of the film, we learn what happened to Katherine, Mary and Dorothy after astronaut John Glenn made his historical orbits around the earth. I cared about these women by then. I wanted to know.
I loved this film. I will watch the final two best picture nominated movies, one of which I have already seen, but I am leaning toward calling Hidden Figures my favorite. I cheered. I teared up. I smiled. This is a powerful film made even more so by being true.
Everyone can learn from Hidden Figures…to be who you are and shine brightly, to allow everyone else to be who they are and shine brilliantly too, to fight against injustice wherever it is found, to see beyond color and gender and perceptions. Hidden Figures is a gem worth uncovering.
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