With Black history month being celebrated in February, and the Oscars coming up this weekend, it seems only fitting to discuss the amazing new movie that has broken boundaries: Hidden Figures. Based on a true story, the movie stars Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monáe, as Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson, respectively. All three women work behind the scenes to help NASA launch the John Glenn Launch. Katherine Johnson starts out as a human “computer” in the segregated West Area Computers division of Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. Through her smarts and wits she eventually is assigned to the Space Task Group, becoming the first colored woman on the the team.
One of the women I was most inspired by was Dorothy Vaughan. Starting out as an unofficial supervisor of the “colored computers”, she uses her strong leadership and personality to advocate for herself. Her passion for learning is portrayed when she single-handedly teaches herself FORTRAN, an early programming language. The final hidden figure in the movie is Mary Jackson who works against odds to become the first black female engineer at NASA, even going to court to advocate for her right to attend night classes at an all-white institution. These protagonists help to break barriers both for women and blacks in the field.
What struck me most about this movie was the way it was able to capture the significant contributions made by these women and the struggles they went through, in both magical and serious ways. In combination with the music by Pharell Williams, the movie successfully portrays a realistic view of life in the early 60’s while focusing on the lives of these three women. Even while facing such difficult times, these women manage to maintain their composure and hold themselves together, all while facing adversity for pursuing their interests and careers in STEM. For me, being a high school girl interested in technology, I was able to relate to the characters. It inspired me to continue my interest and passions in the field, regardless of the gender gap and barriers I might have to overcome in the future. The film additionally uses its comedy and music to make it seem more contemporary, which allows for it to be more relatable.
I recommend this movie to all, especially to girls who are considering pursuing a career in STEM.
The movie received universal acclaim (Metacritic, for example, gave it an A+ in an A+ to F scale, one of only 60 movies to have received this score). It has been nominated for 3 Oscars: best picture, writing (adapted screenplay), best actress in supporting role (Octavia Spencer). This Sunday, I will be rooting for Hidden Figures to win; but regardless, I am so happy that these women are not so hidden anymore.
Written by high school volunteer Sara Syed