Hidden Figures Revealed: Movie Review
As a black woman, I was deeply moved by Hidden Figures. I am not usually one for crying. I didn’t even cry at my own wedding! I know it sounds horrible, but I’m sure my husband forgives me. I did, however, tear up on more than one occasion as I watched Hidden Figures on my own, expressly for this review. I needed to see it. You need to see it too, if you haven’t already.
I am thankful to Taraji P. Henson (as Katherine Johnson) and Octavia Spencer (as Dorothy Vaughn) – whose performances never disappoint – and newcomer to the acting world, Janelle Monáe (as Mary Jackson) for their riveting performances that introduce us to these women, their dreams, their struggles, their fight for equality and respect with weapons of intelligence and persistence.
I am afraid this review will not capture the gravity of what these women have faced and done, but I am confident that Hidden Figures gives a provoking snap shot. There may be a few spoilers below, but too few to prevent being impacted by the movie.
Before beginning, I would like to say that while the word racism is widely used and easily recognized, the word in itself implies that there is more than one race. I wanted to emphasize that there is one race, the human race, with many ethnic differences. We do not have to look farther than Genesis 1:27 to see this. Accordingly, I have chosen to replace the word racism with ethnic prejudice or ethnic hostility to simply define the degrees to which harmful ethnic bias can materialize.
Civil Rights Ain’t Always Civil
An argument ensues between Jackson (Monáe) and her husband about whether she should persist in trying to become an engineer. Her husband implies that the more visible acts of civil right actions – like protests, albeit violent – is the more effective choice in drawing attention to inequality than the route Mary is pursuing. “Civil rights ain’t always civil,” he stresses, ending the disagreement.
Throughout the movie, we see these women push the boundaries individually little by little. Their intellect and skills provide a platform from which to speak and fight for the collective good. Whether it was Johnson’s gripping monologue birthed out of frustration, or Vaughn’s skills in mechanics and strategic leadership or Jackson’s tenacity that brings her to address the judge, they each used their platform.
Often, taking initiative, following the requirements and forcing others through eloquence and ability, to address their ego, injustice and humanity can be just as effective in changing the perceptions of others and winning victories for equal rights.
Respect by Association
If your car broke down on your way to work, on a deserted country road, one would expect the approach of a police cruiser to evoke relief. Instead, it induces angst mixed with contempt from these three women. The officer parks and approaches them, baton in hand. To make a long story short (and as a ploy for you to see the movie), the demeanor of the officer changes once he finds out where the women work.
He condescends less and somehow, they earn his respect. Nevertheless, there hangs a crucial question amidst the eventual feeling of relief: what if they had not worked for an organization, cause or someone he admired? This may have ended differently.
While we cannot be sure that there was an individual respect for the three women by the police officer, we can conclude there was a respect by association. The police officer deemed the work NASA was doing as important. They worked for NASA and so, by his calculations, they became important. This is often something that we face as a people often targeted with ethnic prejudice and hostility.
Still today, we endure the subtle insults, harder work or attaining an education in the hopes that these things may lead to a gained respect as an individual and validate our collective place as inherent members of the human race.
The undertone of the movie is drenched with the struggle for ethnic equality and respect, accentuated by notions about women’s intelligence, skill and capability in a work environment that involved expertise in mathematics, physics, and mechanics. At the church picnic, the then Katherine Goble, tells her future husband, Colonel Jim Johnson what she does. His first response is something along the lines of, “they let women handle that type of work…” but trails off mid-sentence when he realizes what he’s implying and apologizes.
While he may not have meant to offend, the remark revealed what he thought, and what some men and women even think today. Mathematics, physics, mechanics, engineering, architecture, urban planning and the like are still heavily white, male-dominated fields.
I received a degree in Urban Studies, a degree that encompasses knowledge about a few of the above fields along with the social sciences and geography. These demographics of white and male were reflected in my classes and represented by my professors. Not only did Johnson, Vaughn and Jackson challenge the notions of capability and expectation as black people, but they also did as black women. Now that their story is told, I hope that it will serve as an encouragement to black girls and women, whose God-given abilities and talents enable them to excel in seemingly unconventional areas.
My Last Tangent
Would I watch Hidden Figures again? Absolutely. I plan to watch it again with my husband. I hope to dig even deeper as a believer. I hope to biblically tackle my own thoughts (and my husband’s) in detail. I hope to tackle our own thoughts on working moms in the church, particularly in areas outside of the teaching versus the stay-at-home mom.
For perspective, I am a stay-at-home mom with all the dreams of pursuing a career outside of the home in the future. You can say I am on the proverbial fence. I hope to tackle our thoughts on being black in our society, and how to raise our two boys. I hope to tackle our thoughts on education, talents, skills, economics, to name a few, and most importantly, their submission to our call as Christians and God’s will.