Hello! It’s Black History Month AND the world is dying so I figured I needed to watch some art championing black women. Hidden Figures is just that. The THINGS these women did, all while their hands were tied behind their backs is breathtaking and humbling. The three women in the film, Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, and Katherine G. Johnson (played by Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae and Taraji P. Henson respectively) faced ridiculous odds. They were already BLACK WOMEN WORKING AT NASA and it STILL wasn’t enough to prove their worth.
One of the first scenes in the film (after Katherine’s childhood prodigy is shown) is the three women as their car breaks down on the way to work, and a white police officer stops to question them. This scene is a wonderful introduction to all the women: Dorothy tinkering under the hood, and figuring out how to fix the car, Mary defiant almost to the point of trouble, wavering JUST before she crosses that line, and Katherine, the voice of reason who is polite and along for the ride.
We follow the three of them as they work to find recognition within NASA where they are currently relegated to a separate building doing computations without any job security or respect. Dorothy soon learns she must learn an entire new language (programming) if she is to make herself valuable to the company. Mary goes to COURT to change a law for a segregated school that she must attend if she wants to take classes to be eligible to APPLY for an engineer position (the work of which she is already doing by the way) and Katherine is brought into an all white all male work environment where she is hindered at every possible turn and manages to outshine them all.
How many times did I cry in the theatre you ask? Well four or five is a safe guess. I watched this movie at 11:00am after going to the gym and drinking a free Sprite so my emotions were rife for the taking.
Every scene is basically: Black woman faces near impossible situation stacked against her, she somehow manages to overcome it in anonymity and without recognition, just in time for a new situation equally as stacked against her and impossible at which point the cycle begins again. It’s exhausting to watch, let alone live. There were some triumphant moments, (Dorothy finally gets hired as supervisor, Mary wins her court case, Katherine is invited into the launch room after John Glenn specifically asks for her to check the math on the landing coordinates) but they are all half victories because they are all still within a system of racism (Mary can only attend night classes, Katherine still doesn’t have a JOB that recognizes what she is to the team and those missions).
It’s intense, especially so when you immediately recognize that none of this is in the past, these roadblocks are still very much intact, people of color don’t have to use separate bathrooms but they do get different sentencing for the same crimes as white people and are arrested in disproportionate rates. There’s no legal segregation but there is the cycle of poverty that traps communities and prohibits them from being able to own property. These things all still exist just in different more subtle forms.
One of my favorite parts of the movie was after Mr. Harrison (Kevin Costner) abolishes separate bathrooms, (after interrogating Katherine about why she’s missing for 40 minutes every day when the work they do is so important and she finally cracks her veneer of polite deference and educates him about the bathrooms and the coffeepot and the endless minor and major obstacles she faces that are invisible to him) Dorothy is washing her hands and Ms. Mitchell (Kirsten Dunst) is exiting to wash her hands as well. They have had a back and forth about the supervisor position that Dorothy is filling but not being compensated for, work for all the other black computers, etc. etc. Ms. Mitchell has always preached, “follow the rules” and has cited that for never helping Dorothy in any of the many endeavors they discuss. When Dorothy is heading to leave Ms. Mitchell calls out to her and says, “Regardless of what you may think, I have nothing against any of you” to which Dorothy replies (smooth as butter) “I’m sure you really believe that Ms. Mitchell.” 🙂 🙂 🙂
Shortly after this exchange, Ms. Mitchell hands Dorothy the assignment for supervisor and Dorothy accepts it but isn’t falling over herself to thank Ms. Mitchell and I LOVE that!! Because all she did was the right thing, late. White people shouldn’t get praise for that, and this movie doesn’t give it and it’s awesome.
There’s a beautiful love story (Katherine and Colonel Jim Johnson) in this movie and I say beautiful for a couple of reasons, 1. Because Mahershala Ali is beautiful 2. Because he wants to be a father to her three girls as much as he wants to marry her 3. Because in the credits we find out they stayed married for almost 60 years (and counting?) and MOST BEAUTIFUL OF ALL 4. Because the storytellers made this NOT THE FOCUS OF THE MOVIE ABOUT HER LIFE and I appreciate that so so so so so so so much. All of these women had fulfilling relationships with wonderful men in their lives and they managed to show that without overshadowing their accomplishments as their own people. Amen.
I especially appreciated Mary Jackson’s romantic relationship portrayal because it showed how often even the ones we love can be the ones naysaying/putting up blocks for us (out of love and fear for us but that’s still what it is) and I loved that in the end he realized he just needed to get with the program and support her. Women!!!!
Also side note: Janelle Monae wearing a tuxedo in the public eye for almost ten years is a powerful statement about femininity and sexism and power and reclamation that’s been so key for many many women and young girls. HOWEVER her body in this movie is insane and she looks so incredible. It feels like it was almost a trick, so that she could shock us on the big screen with what she’s been hiding under there. Like she’s kinda like, “Oh and in case y’all didn’t know…” but I feel creepy and bad as I write this so I won’t continue with it but the beauty of all these women (even though that’s not the point!!!!) was striking and undeniable.
Also this movie really made John Glenn out to be a handsome non-racist and I wonder if he really was at the time? (Non-racist, not handsome) because I hope so, but maybe they just needed one white person who wasn’t a passive devil.
8 out of 10 chalkboard equations, would masturbate again.