“Hidden Figures” holds an empowering message that’s still relevant in 2017

Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons Octavia Spencer, Taraji P. Henson and Janelle Monae star in the movie.

Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Octavia Spencer, Taraji P. Henson and Janelle Monae star in the movie.

BY MARIANA JARAMILLO ’20

"Hidden Figures" is a 2016 movie directed by Theodore Melfi and produced by the wonderful Pharrell Williams. It's the hidden story of the group of women, Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, who contributed their genius to NASA during the Space Race. They had to overcome the hurdles of both blatant racism and sexism that were prevalent in their time. These three women not only had to deal with the already seemingly impossible task of putting a human in space, but also had to dismantle the racism that prevented them from doing their best.

Katherine, played by Taraji P. Henson of "Empire," stole the show early on. In one of the film's best scenes, Henson obliterates her suitor by rebuffing an ignorant comment. He asks, "and NASA lets women do that?" She sums up the heart of the movie with her response: "I will have you know, I was the first negro female student at West Virginia University Graduate School. On any given day, I analyze the binomial level air displacement, friction and velocity... So yes, they let women do some things at NASA, Mr. Johnson. And it's not because we wear skirts. It's because we wear glasses."

Though "Hidden Figures" was released in 2016, more than 50 years after these women worked at NASA, and many people were still surprised that black women had played such a critical role. Movies about outer space often erase women of color completely, so it is critical that movies start representing the real Americans that inhabit this country. While this year has been groundbreaking for black representation in the media, it's been accompanied by a resurgence of white nationalism and a president who encourages such behavior. Though the story of "Hidden Figures" takes place almost half a century ago, the issues highlighted in the film, such as the segregation of schools, are still happening today. Sure, bathrooms are no longer racially segregated but, according to USA Today, the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that from 2000 to 2014 "the percentage of all schools with so-called racial or socioeconomic isolation grew from 9 percent to 16 percent." A school is deemed isolated when at least 75 percent of their students are of the same race or socioeconomic class. 

This story will empower audiences to continue the fight that these women fought in their daily lives. We will not stand for macro or micro aggressions of any kind and this movie is a reminder of that. It is the people who have the responsibility to dismantle those obstacles and enact change at all costs, just as these three women did.

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