In history, let alone in living memory, the Space Race is something that holds strong significance. The threat of Russian dominance, nukes, The Cold War and the capability of launching technology into space served as a representation of superiority.
Hidden Figures focuses on three African American women who work for NASA and the important work that surrounds them. Which happens to be crunching the numbers on the math behind putting America’s first man into space.
Katharine Goble (played by Taraji P. Henson), is hired on by the Space Task Group as their “computer,” to double-check all of the teams calculations. Her arrival is unexpected and unwelcome, with her co-workers staring at her for uncomfortable periods of time, and giving her a coffee pot labeled “coloreds.” Dorothy Vaughan (played by Oscar-winning Octavia Spencer), who helps NASA’s work with IBM machines, and Mary Jackson (played by singer/songwriter Janelle Monae), the first African American woman in NASA’s engineering department.
Hidden Figures focuses less on the complicated math that goes behind launching a space shuttle into space, and rather on each character and the struggles they had to overcome to help the U.S.A. win the Space Race. You can truly tell the importance of this film is to show that America’s first man in space may not have been possible without these three women and other women in their positions.
Yet, I believe it is safe to say before this movie was released, little to a few of us knew about the involvement of women, yet alone African American women, in the first launch. These women have been successfully forgotten. And the power of this film uncovers the contributions of them all. By showing their success it shares their story so it can be emulated in the future, so that we as a society can prevent the marginalization of other groups deemed to be unwanted.
Films such as these help to empower all women – black and white – to reach their full potential. It shows how anyone can break barriers and become what they envisioned themselves to be. It also helps to show how someone can empower someone through their own privilege. Such as at the end of the film when Al Harrison (Kevin Costner) uses his privilege to break down segregation and empower Katherine and others.
Hopefully this is just the start of more stories of empowering underdogs that can be told and used to inspire even more generations. Hidden Figures has already sparked a following – even the poster: a photo of African Americans presented fully clothed, and without any male leads for them to be pushed to the side for. That is so powerful for women of any race.
Hidden Figures can help us to find more extraordinary women who will break new ground. We need more films and stories such as this to help spread the word on the hidden gems in the past and the hidden gems we have yet to find in the future.