Our entire family went to see this movie yesterday. I didn’t love it or hate it, but it was thought provoking. So although it doesn’t meet my previously stated criteria for being reviewed, it did add another item to the list of things that I thought made it a worthy film.
For those unaware, Hidden Figures is the story of Katherine Johnson (and to a lesser degree Mary Jackson and Dorothy Vaughan), black female mathematicians/engineers who worked for NASA at the height of the American-Russian space race. Trailer:
I haven’t had a chance to date to read the book, but I plan to in the near future and hope to review it here upon conclusion. One the things I usually do however, when viewing a film based on true events, is fact checking at a glance. This is easily enough accomplished via a website such as History vs. Hollywood, which fact checked Hidden Figures here.
The brilliant and groundbreaking nature of the work these three women did seems to be as noteworthy as the movie depicts. NASA’s official pages dedicated to the women can be found here, here, and here. What does seem to be markedly different, at least in Katherine Johnson’s recorded experience, was the level of discrimination she experienced in the movie. Or more accurately, the discrimination she didn’t experience.
Although the film depicts a fairly hostile work environment for Katherine Johnson upon her promotion from computer to the upper levels of flight planning, she reported that she was always treated a s a respected colleague, something I find believable.
Her testimony rings more true than the movie depiction not because I underestimate the amount of racial discrimination present in Virginia in the early 1960’s. On the contrary, it rings true because of the high level of discrimination present in Virginia in the early 1960’s. There was a fierce competition between the U.S. and Russia at the time this story took place, particularly after the launch of Sputnik. Anyone who could help Americans close the gap might have been viewed as an asset.
Further, there was no such thing as affirmative action during this time so Katherine Johnson’s mere presence was evidence of her worthiness to be there. If she could help accurately and quickly compute the math to get launches accomplished, she was no doubt welcomed.
One of the noteworthy points of the existence of the colored “computers”, the name of the groups of women employed by NASA during that time to do mathematical computations, was the fact that they were all female. From the white perspective, this was not necessarily anything of note, as those girls could still marry “up”, if you will.
However, from the black perspective it highlighted (for me at least) the reality that black women -long before the militant feminism of the mid to late 60’s- were already on the road to the education and occupational advantage over black men that is so often written about today as if it the gap only just began to widen in the 1990’s. This hidden disparity was one of the peripheral issues that made this film interesting to me even though it was never addressed by the film.
I hope to discuss this story more after reading the book (which has a backlog of requests in my local library system) .I do think it’s worth viewing for the historical value.Until I can read the book, I give the movie:
- Discussions of racism and sexism throughout film.
- A couple “damns” here or there, a depiction of Dorothy Vaughn sneaking a programming book from the white section of the library after not being allowed to check out books there. Lesson there for your kids.