In 2010, women made up just 28 percent of science and engineering jobs according to the National Science Board’s annual “Science and Engineering Indicators” report. In a world where women still do not receive equal pay, paid maternity leave, or make up a sizable part of notable leadership positions in politics, business or the sciences, women played a huge part in one of history’s most notable moments — launching America into space.
“Hidden Figures” is a movie about three African-American women who helped perform calculations for the Gemini program but still had to walk several minutes to enter the “colored-only” bathrooms.
It is an overlooked part of history. Initially inspired by first-time author Margot Lee Shetterly, the movie touches on some of the racism, sexism and prejudices the protagonists faced while working in a male-dominated industry. Taraji P. Henson plays Katherine Johnson, a math prodigy who worked at NASA in Virginia who receives a promotion at her work to help astronaut John Glenn make the first orbit around the Earth. She is now 98 and has had a building named after her and was recently awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Singer Janelle Monáe plays Mary Jackson, an employee at NASA who dreams of becoming an engineer but faces obstacles when the classes required to become an engineer require her to enroll at a whites-only university. Finally, Octavia Spencer plays Dorothy Vaughn who wants to be recognized for her work as a supervisor but her Caucasian boss, Mrs. Mitchell refuses to acknowledge it.
All three women face daunting circumstances in an intimidating industry. Faced with beating the Russians in a historic “space race,” these heroines show in their actions and accomplishments that diligence, determination, and an iron will to succeed can help get you anywhere.
Monáe shows off her versatility as an artist in some of her scenes, displaying a subtle grit as she breaks barriers to become educated alongside a group of all white men. Henson soars as a prodigy turned legend and Spencer delivers a fine performance, performing her role with a sass and humor only she can deliver on screen.
“Hidden Figures” is an example of the power of art: The stories of these three characters is an unknown part of history. When we look at our textbooks or conduct our research about the space race in America, do we see many women of color? Do we even see women at all? The film pays homage to the fact that entire departments of NASA were comprised of African-American women called “computers” who worked endlessly to make this country the center of science and innovation that it is today.
While there are a few heavy scenes that touch on some of the discrimination the women face, the movie soars in how they overcome it to become some of the most brilliant minds at NASA. Thanks to “Hidden Figures,” now they are finally well-known minds. It is an achievement well-deserved and delivered much too late.
What did you think of “Hidden Figures”? Comment below or tweet @issabasco.