**Long-form review of Hidden Figures (SPOILERS BELOW):**
Hidden Figures is one of those “necessary” movies: the kind that must be seen in order to broaden your understanding of our society, and the systems in place that make it run the way it does.
As you probably already know, the film is about three black women who worked at NASA during the 1960s Space Race, and whose contributions to the Space Program you’ve probably never heard about until this movie (mathematician Katherine Goble, mathematician and supervisor Dorothy Vaughan, and mathematician and engineer Mary Jackson).
Online critics have pointed out how the film does a great job of showcasing the systems structural racism and sexism that black women had to face in their daily lives. One particular scene that is beloved by a lot of reviewers is when Katherine Goble is confronted by Space Task Group Director Al Harrison (Kevin Costner playing Kevin Costner) about why she is always away from her desk for 30-40 minute stretches. Goble then explodes at her boss and colleagues about how her bathroom breaks require her to literally run 2 miles across the campus, because there is only one coloured bathroom for women in all of NASA. In the very next scene, Harrison is seen destroying the “Coloured Ladies Room” sign, and declaring that “here at NASA we all pee the same color”, and that the black employees can use whatever bathroom they want from now on.
This makes for fine cinema (although I doubt that the director really needed to be so dramatic as to personally and physically destroy a sign, when a priority work order and a memo would have sufficed), but the message is clear: those with power need to take an active hand in dismantling the system, even if it means destroying the very thing that privileges them over others. (Also, this scene is very à propos for trans bathroom rights being fought for today)
But in discussing this film with my wife, we notice something different that other reviewers have not been talking about: that this movie actually has 2 different stories in it: one that reaffirms Hollywood’s vision for the American Dream, while the other turns that on its head.
The first story arc, which follows Katherine Goble, is framed as a typical “exceptional minority” tale. Katherine is not only smart, but “gifted” smart. And she uses her smarts and hard work to win the (grudging) respect of her white peers. This is the dream that Hollywood sells: America works if you’re capable, pull yourself up by your bootstraps, buckle down and work hard, and you too can triumph (…or, for a black woman, get a handshake from your boss, and then promptly be forgotten by history).
But the second story is much more interesting, and it follows Mary Jackson and Dorothy Vaughan. In one scene, after Goble receives a promotion to the Space Task Group, Vaughan explains that while she accepts that any advancement that betters the life of any black woman is an advancement for all black women, that doesn’t stop her from being left behind.
This is the danger of exceptional minorities myth: if you’re not exceptional like them, you won’t break through that glass ceiling, even if they did.
So later in the movie, Vaughan teaches herself and the other black mathematicians to code in FORTRAN for NASA’s first IBM computer, and when she is offered a promotion to oversee the computer lab, she declines the offer unless she is able to bring all the other members of her team with her. At this point NASA is obligated to agree (or else have an unstaffed computer lab with an expensive machine nobody knows how to use), and all 30 or so black mathematicians are promoted and reassigned to the IBM lab.
Similarly, Mary Jackson wants to be an aeronautical engineer, but women – let alone black women – are not allowed to study in that field. She sues a white-only school and convinces a judge to let her take a necessary course there, and wins her case. And because America works under a Common Law system, her victory sets precedent for all other women of colour in the State.
So while Goble’s story is about a model minority (the story those in power love to tell), Jackson and Vaughan’s story is about oppressed groups working communally to uplift each other (which is the story those in power fear).
I teared up a few times watching Hidden Figures, but I absolutely lost it at the end when they included all their accomplishments and showed the real-life photographs of Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson because these women
deserve recognition, they deserve respect, and they deserve to be honored and given a name in U.S. history. They deserve all this, and so many WOC deserve to hear their story and be inspired knowing that they can become brilliant figures in the fields of science, mathematics, and anything they set their minds to.
I’d just like to point out that almost no one knew about Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson, Dorothy Vaughan, or any of the other black women who got us into space before Hollywood made a movie about them. Movies are powerful.
My immediate Fantastic Beasts thoughts (SPOILERS):
- I loved the movie
- that’s not how legilimency works (it’s a huge plot point in OOTP how do you get that wrong?)
- Credence broke my heart and killed me
- why the fuck does Grindelwald look like that?!
And most importantly:
- there is only one black person or person of color in the entire movie. 1920s America in New York City and there is only one POC.
Because, as stated before, the characters alone make me prefer the Fantastic Beasts series to the originals.
Newt Scamander: Starting out strong here. God bless this small awkward bean. I’m such a sucker for cute fictional boys that have a hard time interacting with humans and are full of a lot of sadness but still want to see the best in the world and Newt is no exception. I fell in love with him within ten minutes of the film, and I remember seeing the previews and thinking, “oh no, not another cute fictional boy for me to obsess over.” The way he sort of latches onto people that he has a good feeling about is adorable (ie. Jacob), and I love how trusting he is as soon as he realizes that the Goldsteins and Jacob are on his side. The Hufflepuff Newt is made very clear, as he is extremely loyal and hardworking with his passions. And his awkwardness is conveyed very well and realistically – not like teen comedies where an obviously social and gorgeous teen is all, “lol look at me i’m so awkward and relatable :3″. Newt obviously CAN talk to people, and he knows how to, but he doesn’t have the charm or way with words that Queenie or Jacob have. He’s an introvert who interacts better with creatures than humans, and I think that’s how a lot of “awkward” people feel. Altogether, Eddie Redmayne (god i love him) did a FANTASTIC job portraying Newt’s big heart and reclusive tendencies and I am beyond excited to learn more about Newt (and his brother !!) in coming films.
I watched Hidden Figures this weekend and it was amazing:
-such amazing leading women, each with their own amazing narrative, supporting each other -sO many black women in a single film: like 30 of the computers who later became the first programmers at NASA, and also the main character’s mother and three children -black women being loved and supported by their husbands (at first I was like ‘why is there a romance subplot when this is about her accomplishments’ but then I remembered that the ‘independent black woman’ is a harmful trope and that there aren’t enough representations of black women being loved on screen) -the colors they were wearing! Taraji P. Henson’s colorful suits in a sea of white bread men wearing white shirts and black pants -Taraji P Henson outrunning the guy in sky high heels (the reason she can do that is heartbreaking though) -the best wingwomen you will ever meet -the part where Octavia Spencer’s character (Dorothy Vaughan) finaaally is called Mrs. Vaughan instead of Dorothy by the white supervisor lady -Dorothy Vaughan being super cool and teaching herself and then all the other black computers how to program a computer so they would have a place at NASA -Janelle Monae’s as Mary Jackson…all of her lines were gold -HARDISON??? (Aldis Hodge as Levi Jackson—sorry but he will forever be Hardison to me)
note: I’m not black so I hope I didn’t say something wrong/miss something important, but lmk if I was stereotyping/repeating harmful tropes about black women and I’ll take it down or fix it! I also haven’t seen much floating around about Hidden Figures which is surprising but if you know anyone who writes about it please @ me!