If you’re in the mood for an empowering movie that is as inspiring as it is impactful, then put Hidden Figures at the top of your list. Gau and I recently made a night of it and were wowed by not only the story but also how the important themes of gender equality and race relations unfolded in this absolutely true story.
Warning: A few spoilers ahead…read at your own risk. ☺
Hidden Figures is the untold story of three African American women whose contributions helped NASA launch astronaut John Glenn into orbit. The event put the U.S. firmly ahead in the Space Race and was no easy feat. Only the greatest minds in the country were involved.
Katherine G. Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) – three of our fave entertainers! – are “computers,” charged with computing, by hand, extremely difficult calculations. Blessed with incredible gifts in science, technology, engineering and math, they were among the elite.
However, their intellectual abilities were not enough. The year was 1962, and if you know anything about this time in American history, it was difficult for not only African Americans but also women. You can imagine the not-so-subtle challenges that our heroines faced in a male-dominated industry and segregated world.
They had separate areas and facilities from their white counterparts, despite their doing the same job. As women, they were not invited to attend important meetings or even be considered for some of the highest-clearance and important teams at NASA (even though they were extremely capable).
Of course, as you’ll see in the movie, this all changes because of the ladies’ perseverance, tenacity as well as the support of those around them – even the most unlikely of cheerleaders.
Throughout the movie, my nerdy self took down some choice quotes that really stood out to Gau and I. They each hold important thoughts and truths that illustrate the path that these women took and lessons we can all learn, not just as women, but as human beings to start “breaking borders and building bonds.” It’s these bursts of colorful “grrl power” moments that really help make the movie and the story come to life.
“It’s not because we wear skirts, it’s because we wear glasses.”
Katherine Johnson brings the point home in a conversation she has with her future husband about why she works at NASA. Can you imagine how frustrating it must have been to be so intelligent yet so discriminated against and underminded simply because of your sex? Fortunately for us, this trio didn’t let discrimination on any level keep them from tapping into their God-given gifts. Imagine what the world (and the Space Program) would have been deprived of without their staying true to themselves and following their dreams!
Who is Dorothy Vaughn talking to? First, the stalled car she finally gets running and later the IBM computer (one of the first of its kind ever) purchased by NASA that no one could figure out how to use – except Vaughn. It’s such a subtle line in the movie that you might not catch its significance right away. To us, they’re words of validation. In a way, Vaughn maybe saw herself and even her fellow females in these sophisticated machines: highly capable and significant in their complexity and ability. Dorothy’s mechanical talent and unwavering tenacity (you’ll love the library scene!) helped her earn a spot as NASA’s first African American supervisor.
“We go from being our father’s daughters, to our husband’s wives to our babies’ mothers.”
It’s a truth Mary Jackson speaks that was probably felt by every woman of the era. These words highlight the only path that society seemed to carve out for women – especially African American women. It’s what could have made our heroines’ situation so much more difficult. They were not only outliers in their careers, they were outliers outside the office, too. Luckily, these three women had a network of family, friends and community that embraced their talents and supported their achievements.
“There’s no protocol for women attending.” “There’s no protocol for a man circling the Earth, either, sir.”
She told him! In this exchange with a colleague at NASA (for whom Katherine had been publishing papers with only his name as author), Katherine basically fights for her right to be in an all-male, high-clearance meeting that would decide the fate of the launch. Having already proven her ability as a mathematician whose calculations were bringing significant progress to the project, she spoke up and spoke out. It’s a moment in the movie that shows the shadow of prejudice lifting away as Katherine courageously challenges convention.
As we kick off Black History Month and prepare for Women’s History Month in March, we can’t help but laud the existence of a movie like this that finally celebrates and showcases the contributions and stories of amazing African American women. It’s a story that would impact and empower anyone, no matter his or her race or gender.