- Student Life
By Samuel Williamson. February 23, 2017 - 4:14 pm
Hidden Figures was an exhilarating movie. Three African American women during the 1960s took on the world and changed history forever by helping NASA, in their own significant ways, to get John Glenn into space.
Director Theodore Melfi aimed for more than simply telling the story of these three women’s vital roles at NASA in the 1960s. Melfi aimed to tell the story of civil rights and how African Americans, especially female African Americans, were being treated at that time. He captured discrimination and racism.
The movie’s plot follows an untold story during the Cold War. Some Americans don’t realize that getting to space wasn’t an easy task. “Hidden Figures” not only shows the struggle it took NASA to get to space, but also the hard work and dedication African American women contributed. The movie aims to educate Americans on the untold stories of African American female NASA computers (human calculators).
The film takes place at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., where it follows the stories of three African-American NASA computers. They not only paved the way for African Americans and women to have more vital roles in NASA, but in any American workplace.
The film focuses on the story of Katherine G. Johnson played by Taraji P. Henson. She is a single mother of three daughters and is employed by NASA as a human computer who does basic calculations for engineers. Johnson is reassigned to work as a computer for NASA’s top engineers. Johnson did calculations for an all-white male staff. She was treated as a lesser because of her race, but she was smarter than every man in the room.
I have to give kudos to Henson for her diversity in acting. Taraji P. Henson is known for her role as Cookie Lyon in the popular television show “Empire.” Henson’s character, Cookie, is the wife of a former drug dealer turned hip-hop record producer. In “Hidden Figures” Henson plays a sweet single mother who just wants to provide for her children. Henson’s role in “Hidden Figures” is very different and her performance is an impressive transition from her role as Cookie in “Empire.”
The film also follows the lives of Dorothy Vaughan played by Octavia Spencer and Mary Jackson played by Janelle Monáe.
Dorothy became the first female African-American supervisor at NASA. She saw that with the invention of the IBM computer, her colleagues’ and her own job would become obsolete. Dorothy taught herself and her colleagues to program the IBM computer, so NASA would not see them as obsolete.
Mary became the first African American woman to attend an all-white school in Virginia. More impressively, she was also the first female African American to become an Astronomical NASA Engineer.
Janelle Monáe’s popularity does not come from the big screen, but from her musical talents. Monáe, known by most as a singer, takes on the role of Mary in “Hidden Figures”. Monáe shows the variety of her talents, by properly portraying a powerful African American woman who possesses the skills to achieve greatness, which she does.
Melfi demonstrates impressive cinematography throughout the film. All the way from a fireball spaceship capsule spiraling towards the earth, to amazing shots of the spaceship Friendship Seven launching into space. A favorite of mine was how Melfi incorporated original shots from NASA at the time of Friendship Seven’s launch. It made the film seem realistic to the period.
“Hidden Figures” demonstrates the acceptance and respect white NASA engineers gained for female African American computers. It was amazing that Melfi could make a film that incorporated strong cinematography, civil rights, and the story of three women pushing the United States towards the satisfying win of the Cold War. Melfi touched on a subject that is very relevant today. Discrimination is high in our society right now, but Melfi is helping to change that.