“Hidden Figures” Brings Out Hidden Stories

Hidden Figures takes place in 1961, when America was aiming to win the space race. During this time, computers were not objects, but people, and these individuals were the people helping lead America to the moon landing. Everyone has heard of Buzz Aldreien and Neil Armstrong, but very few have heard of the women who helped them achieve their fame. This novel-based film follows the lives of three African-American women who work at NASA headquarters in Hampton, Va. Initially assigned to plug numbers into data, these three intelligent, bright women, Katherine Goble (later Johnson), Mary Jackson, and Dorothy Vaughan, would come to be known as three of the most important parts of the space race.

The movie is originally based on Margot Lee Shetterly’s nonfiction book, also known as Hidden Figures. Shetterly grew up with Goble, Jackson, and Vaughan in her community, along with a variety of other African American men and women who worked for NASA in the ’60s. During her youth, she never questioned people of color holding jobs in the STEM field. Once she was older though, she realized that not only was her community unique, but that their stories were ignored, untold, or attributed to other sources. Discontent to have their stories be silent, she wrote her nonfiction story following the lives of the most brilliant of the African American women employed by the space program. Her book took off in 2016, and it was quickly grabbed by 20th Century Fox to be turned into a full-length feature film.

This film does not gloss over the blatant racism and sexism that Goble, Jackson, and Vaughan faced within NASA. Katherine Goble (Taraji P. Henson) is a mathematical prodigy who is promoted from her computing room to working on calculating the launch coordinates for the Atlas rocket. Her welcome to the mostly white, male work place is cold and isolating, particularly from engineer Paul Stafford (Jim Parsons). She is gawked at and treated as less than her coworkers by everyone except her tolerant boss, Al Harrison (Kevin Costner). Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) and Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) are just as discriminated against, with Jackson trying to overthrow the Jim Crow laws that are keeping her from being an engineer, while Vaughan fights to overcome her denial for a promotion due to both her race and gender. All three of these actresses bring charm, wit, and hilarity to their characters who portray the multifaceted complexity these historical women embraced every day.

Hidden Figures is not only there to tell these ladies’ stories; it’s also there to show just how normal, everyday racism can hold back individuals who have the ambition, drive, and capability to succeed. Goble, Jackson, and Vaughan were able to overcome the obstacles of being both African American and women in a workplace that despised both. However, this is not always possible. Hopefully this story brings to light the ways intuitional racism does impact minorities and why this kind of mentality must end. We as a society are holding ourselves back by limiting those who are capable of doing great things.

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