HIDDEN FIGURES: FILM REVIEW
BY DAPHNE AMEVENU
Hidden Figures is a must watch movie set in the 60s centered around the lives of three black women working for NASA whose existence and significant contributions to NASA, and those of other women, had been hidden for many years. This absorbing movie follows the women during the time of the ‘race to space’ when the US were competing against Russia to be the first to send a man to space.
Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson were working as and referred to as human computers, like the majority of the women they analysed data using mechanical calculators. The three women were in an all-black group of ‘computers’ made to work in a building for ‘Blacks Only’ highlighting the continued segregation and the ongoing fight for civil rights. Dorothy Vaughan was the mother hen in the group fighting for a promotion to supervisor, a role in keeping with the work she already did. The threat of unemployment loomed over her and her team after the installation of the IBM computer, Dorothy taught herself and her team how to use it in secret. She managed to create a new job role for her team including herself as supervisor training others (including white woman who black women were not allowed to manage previously) on the use of the IBM. It was a heart-warming moment, one of many in the movies that displayed Dorothy demonstrating true sisterhood by creating a future for the women in her team and finally being recognised as a supervisor.
Katherine Johnson, a single mother of three, was the brightest of the ‘computers’ and was selected by Dorothy to work on the calculations for the test space ride in a team of all white people who were mostly men. Alongside being placed in a challenging role in an all-white team, Katherine also was being courted by a James Johnson who was returning home from the army. I loved that through the challenge of working life, Katherine remarried James Johnson, a man who respected and supported her in her career ambitions. A real demonstration of love and support for a husband especially in the 60s era.
I was able to see a bit of myself in Mary Jackson who had a great interest in engineering and was encouraged by her boss, a Polish Jewish man who escaped the Nazis rule, to apply for an engineering program.I was the only black woman to study this subject for 3 years on my course. I really identified with Mary making history by joining a previously all-white class to have the qualifications required to join the NASA engineering program. I had always enjoyed my science subjects and went on to study Biochemistry at Oxford University. Whilst I didn’t make history, being the minority is a feeling I can strongly identify with. Mary was supported by her husband to achieve her dreams despite him initially struggling to understand her interest in pursuing a traditionally white male dominant career. It was great to see and gave me hope to see the men in this film support their wives and gave me hope that those of us with ambitious dreams will one day have that same support!
The movie really highlights the daily struggles for women and black people in an overtly racist and sexist American society. Seeing Katherine break down in the middle of the office after being questioned about her long absences in the office was heart-breaking. She had to run over forty minutes (in heels!) every time she needed to use the toilets due to there being no ‘coloured toilets’ in the building where she had been placed. The movie reminded me of how far we have come as a society since then and has inspired me to be more intentional in this ongoing fight against injustices against women and minorities.
Despite the cold nature of Al Harrison, Katherine’s boss, he smashes down the coloured toilet sign showing he recognised everyone's humanity. And I guess overall this is what the movie is about, the great efforts of man to touch the sky and his inability to see another as human only highlights our brilliance and pride. We are complex beings in need of help. May we all open our eyes to see the prejudices we hold and act against them and see the beauty of God’s creation in everyone.