Hidden Figures is the ‘almost’ untold story of African-American women and their intellectual excellence behind one of the greatest operations in history: the launch of astronaut John Glenn into orbit.
Set in 1960’s Hampton, Virginia, the story follows the race between the US and Russia to send the first human to outer space. Our window into this world is through three gifted and intelligent NASA employees — Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer), and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe).These women change the course of history while experiencing racial discrimination during the height of the Civil Rights Movement. Despite their college education, we witness black women being treated as second-class citizens throughout the film; however we see how they triumphant over their hardships with bravery and brainpower, teaching me some of the most invaluable lessons as a young black woman in 2017.
1. The Power Of Self-Definition
Hidden Figures show us that during our lives we are put in situations where we must remind ourselves of who we are and what we stand for. Self-definition is one of the most powerful things you can do against a world that may see you as inferior. You will enter workplaces where you will feel different and in turn maybe treated differently; you will enter rooms where your opinion will be considered last and you will walk through walkways where people look down on you.
One of the most powerful scenes in Hidden Figures is when Katherine Johnson speaks up for herself in the workplace. She expresses her struggle in a poignant monologue around a sea of white male co-workers who are constantly making her feel like that she doesn’t matter. She refuses to be invisible and believes in herself and her voice. These women did not remain quietly in the shadows instead they defined themselves as strong, beautiful and independent women who deserve the same opportunities as everyone else. They all know who they are and are willing to fight and speak up for their place in this world. They too, are America.
2. Black Women Are Not Born To Be ‘Hidden Figures’
These women focused on solutions and their talent to elevate themselves. Katherine Johnson uses her Math intelligence to double-check the coordinates for the Friendship 7 spacecraft mission at the Space Task Group. She works hard and eventually gains the respect of her boss Al Harrison and fights against the prejudice from her colleagues in the workplace.
Mary Jackson breaks down doors to become NASA’s first black engineer. Through determination and willpower she follows a path that will lead her to this role even though she is told that she is not qualified for it. Finally, we have Dorothy Vaughan, who is constantly reaching for something better for herself and her sisters. A genius computer programmer and the first black supervisor at NASA, she teaches herself how to use the new computer at NASA because she realises that it is vital for her career prospects. Forward thinking, she is continually working on herself and reaches new heights because of her resourcefulness.
Celebrate your gift and use it as your weapon to break down barriers. Growing up my weapon was always and still is my pen. I loved how words empowered me and others around me. I didn’t speak much growing up and saw how words could be used as defence to write us into rooms, to create empathy for others. Words put us in someone else’s shoes. Between living and dying, it is our words that shape us. What is your gifting? We all have one and once you find it, use it to change the course of history like these women did and remember, even though your gift can get you through the door, hard work keeps you there. Keep pushing.
3. As A Black Woman Its Okay To Dream BIG
If you are willing to work hard why not dream big? There are plenty of people in the world who will tell you why you can’t do something instead of how to get there. All the inspirational women in this film didn’t limit themselves even though they were in a position where their dreams were not always a reality. Mary Jackson initially says that she doesn’t want to ‘entertain the possible’and become an engineer but she later realises that dreams are important. If we can’t visualise a better future first, we will not go and get it. The dreams for the women in this film were bigger than themselves. These dreams were representative of the African American women who were told no. These dreams were about African American women who want to see themselves as heroines and the sole creators of their own stories. They protected these dreams and fought for it! Our stories haven’t always been written, so it is important that we write them ourselves or give people a reason they can’t ignore them.
This film doesn’t shy away from the hardships black women have to go through to achieve their dreams. We see how Dorothy’s boss, Vivian continually patronises her and tries to diminish her position at NASA even though she deserves a promotion. We watch Katherine’s humiliating daily routine of running to the closest ‘colored bathroom’, which is half a mile away. Sat on the toilet, she does her Maths calculations there because she is determined to not waste any time even when she is away from her desk. Moments like this in the film remind us that the journey to our dreams may be hard. You will go through hardships and may fail. However failure and taking risks is necessary as it helps to craft who we are as people. Anyone can reach greatness, it isn’t just for a select few, it exists within all of us.
4. Protect The Sisterhood
As Maya Angelou says WE rise and we should bring our sisters with us! Align yourself with people who encourage you and empower you, who fight for their dreams and are willing to support you in yours. This film is about unity. Dorothy is always focused on making sure that the women she works with are taken care of. She realises that their prosperity and success is also hers. She eventually brings the team of women from the West Computing Group with her when she is promoted. She remembers that she sits on the shoulders of black women who came to her country and fought. These women are no longer ‘Hidden Figures’because they want everyone to shine like they do.