Spotlight Review by guest blogger Erin Marshall
Hidden Figures celebrates the real-life contributions of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn, and Mary Jackson to America’s space program. Starting out as computers, literally doing the mathematical work of modern-day mechanical computers, these three ladies broke professional barriers at Langley in the 1960s. In a male-dominated racially segregated facility, these brilliant women stepped up to solving the puzzle of space flight. They rose in the ranks of mathematicians, engineers, and programmers because their intellect and skills were necessary to furthering the cause of dominating Soviets in the Space Race.
I was very excited to see this movie. I am a self-proclaimed NASA nerd and love reading anything astronaut-related. I left the theater feeling inspired by the tenacity and patriotism of Americans in the 1960’s. And, it renewed the pride I have in America’s pioneering spirit. Time and time again we overcome what seems impossible. At the same time, the film was an eye-opening look at the cultural norms of segregation. It highlighted the stark contrast of our society during that time. There was a driving determination to push forward, to innovate, and to propel technology. At the same time, many of these same people were clawing and scraping to hang onto ideas and traditions of keeping people “in their place”. There is a striking scene where Katherine mindlessly pours herself a cup of coffee while calculating numbers. All heads turn to look at her, as she realizes, she’s not welcome to drink from the same coffeepot as her co workers. She is forced to run a half mile from her desk to reach the “colored ladies room” because there isn’t one on the side of the Langley campus where her new position is located. There’s a flurry of apprehension when she needs to attend a meeting because “there is no protocol for women” there. We were as a society, taking huge strides. But, at the same time, we were dragging our feet and digging in our heels over petty trivial progress towards basic human decency. It’s a reminder that every generation needs to advance not only science and knowledge but, we can’t neglect the advancement of unity in the human race.
I do want to reiterate that this film is based on true events. But, the creators did definitely take some Hollywood liberties at making characters and situations more appealing. For example, twenty-something; Glen Powell plays the part of John Glenn. He looks fresh faced and innocent. He’s portrayed as this boy next door character that is naive to the danger he’s about to take on. Kind of, “Gee fella’s if that smart lady says the numbers are right, that’s good enough for me.” In reality, Glenn was a forty year old combat pilot with a receding hairline that was exhaustively qualified and anything but naive. His memoirs mention nothing of last minute “go-no go” numbers arriving at the last possible minute before his launch. Further, there is a tense scene where Katherine is running to a capcom mission control room on the other side of the Langley campus with vital numbers to the mission. In reality, this room was in Cape Canaveral, Florida, not Hampton, Virginia. Nevertheless, this is a great movie. It’s child appropriate, thought provoking, and highly entertaining. I look forward to seeing it again and I highly recommend you see it as well.
Erin enjoys all things science and nerdy, the outdoors, and time with her husband and twin children. You can follow Erin on her blog Under An Elm Tree.