Oscar winning actress Octavia Spencer has recently given herself a new starring role. That is the role of defending the honor of the women portrayed in the movie “Hidden Figures.” Katherine Johnson, played by Taraji Henson; Mary Jackson played by Janelle Monae; and Dorothy Vaughn, played by Spencer, were three highly intelligent black women mathematicians employed by NASA in the 1960’s.
In an interview about the film, Spencer acknowledges those she calls “Trumpites” whom she says seek to minimize the contributions of these black women. She stated, “There are people who think [the events of the film] didn’t happen.” She is referring to an article on vdare.com in which the author questions the value these women brought to the space program.
The author even goes as far as to name numerous publications and asks why, Katherine Johnson specifically, was not mentioned in them. Johnson is not mentioned for the same reasons many blacks were not mentioned in history books and other publications. It is because of blatant racial discrimination that the contributions of so many were underrepresented in history, and traditionally overlooked.
Johnson is the only one of the three women depicted in the film who is still living. She was honored by President Obama with the Medal of Freedom in 2015. The movie “Hidden Figures” honors the legacy of all three women, as well as many more who worked with them in the space program at NASA.
All of these women fought discrimination daily, while maintaining professionalism and doing excellent work in a predominantly white workplace. What the author of the “Hyped Figures” article fails to realize is that in order to even be considered qualified, blacks had to be over-qualified. They knew they had to be better than, in order to even be considered good enough.
Spencer is understandably upset by the racism and this idea that their contributions were not real, or were somehow made up to look like more than they were. It was real. The women were real, gifted, talented, and well able to do their jobs. It sets us back 100 years when racist comments doubting black contributions arise.
Vaughn, Johnson, and Jackson did not get the recognition they deserved for their valuable contribution to this country and to NASA. The least we can do is honor their legacy now, even if it is 50 years later.
Why do you think some people disbelieve in the contributions of black Americans? Let’s discuss here or on Twitter: @lcarterwriter.