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Hidden Figures

Film based on the stories of three Black women who were instrumental in helping NASA to put John Glenn into space, orbit around the earth, and land safely at sea. Katherine Johnson (Taraji Henson) is a math whiz who can do complex calculations in her head; Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer) works as a supervisor without the title of the color women who work in the west wing; and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae) is a woman who aspires to be an engineer. The film tracks the three stories as they participate in the race into space. There are so many really good things about this movie. The stories of the three women, who we did not know about before, are given to us, almost as proof of how the stories of bright women, and particularly Black women, so often go unnoticed. As a friend who saw the movie wrote, “Why am I just now learning about this?” The story is told with attention to the details of life in the Jim Crow south and what it was like for African-Americans at that time. The movie seemed to stay close to the pressures NASA had to have felt to win the space race. The acting, particularly by the three lead women, is remarkable. Big thumbs up for a film that serves as an example of what good films should do – teach us and provide insights into things that we don’t know. There are also two particularly interesting scenes (of many, really) in the movie. One is when Harrison, the project leader (Kevin Costner) breaks down the Colored Women’s Restroom sign. To win the race, NASA could not be segregated, and having segregation distracted from the real goal, what was really important. The second what when Dorothy’s manager says, “I really don’t have anything against your people”, to which Dorothy replies, “I know you don’t, at least that is what you all believe” (or something to that effect). Touché!  Things we should all think about.

About Gary Burkholder

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