Count on seeing Hidden Figures and definitely take your daughters to see these black women excelling in math, engineering, and computer operations
It’s the early sixties. Three black women traveling in a blue and white 1957 Chevrolet head to work. Few people would guess that Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) work at the National Aeronautics Space Administration (NASA). One is a mathematician, one an engineer and the other a computer expert. Hidden Figures tells the fascinating story of these three amazing women and the vital roles they play in getting America’s space program off the ground.
The story behind Hidden Figures is incredible on multiple levels. According to a People magazine article, numbers fascinated Katherine Johnson from her earliest days. She counts everything including the number of steps it takes to walk to school. She enters high school at 10 and then graduates from college at 18. Her highly supportive father moves their family as necessary to ensure that she takes full advantage of the educational opportunities offered to her. Dorothy Vaughan graduates from Wilberforce University in Ohio at an even younger age, 16.
Johnson, Vaughan, and Jackson benefit from a NASA program which hired black women during War World II. The agency is so impressed by the mathematic talents of these women (who were called “computers”), it continues the program after the war ends opening the door for later arrivals.
Hidden Figures doesn’t just tell the stories of these three geniuses but provides a portrait of the racial dynamics of that time period. Including the segregated facilities and the closed minds attempting to undermine these women’s efforts and talents. Jim Parsons (of the Big Bang Theory) plays Paul Stafford who works along with Johnson at the Langley Research Center and who undercuts her by not supplying the necessary information to complete her projects. And he deeply resents her checking and sometimes finding errors in his calculations - which is her job.
Kevin Costner plays Johnson’s and Stafford’s boss and often has to referee their disputes and more times than not, sides with Johnson. He is a firm but fair supervisor who is forced to examine the prevailing segregationist policies and their effect on people like Johnson and her ability to do her job. And how she walks a half mile across the NASA campus to go to the segregated, colored women’s bathroom. Or how someone in his own department brings in a separate coffee pot for her rather than have her continue to use the one the rest of the group uses.
Recently deceased astronaut John Glenn reflects an uncommon acceptance and support of the women. When the NASA employees stand outside in a greeting line to meet the astronauts, the white employees are first. After shaking hands with them, a handler directs the astronauts back inside before reaching the black women. Glenn ignores the directive and walks over to speak and shake hands with the ladies. And before his first voyage, he makes clear that he won’t take off until Johnson reviews the computations of the NASA’s new IBM computer.
Overall the film is well done. One interesting scene is when Johnson who is a widow, rips into a man she meets at church (who later becomes her husband) because he’s surprised to find out that she’s a senior mathematician for NASA. The whole world would be surprised at her occupation! Why shouldn’t he? He later apologizes for his close-mindedness.
As to cast diversity Hidden Figures, gets an “A”. It represents the situation as it existed racially at that time.
See Hidden Figures because it has that rare combination of being both educational and entertaining. Also see it because if it’s a box office hit, Hollywood will make more films like it. And we need more films like it. Definitely take your daughters to see these women excelling in math, science, engineering, and computer operations (technology). One final point, in addition to being a member of the composing team to score the music for Hidden Figures, music producer, Pharrell Williams, is also one of the producers of the movie.
Hidden Figures is just over 2 hours at 126 minutes. Rated PG for thematic elements and some language. It gets our highest rating: See It!