Based on the widely acclaimed book of the same name by Margot Lee Shetterly, Hidden Figures (2016) tells the story of three brilliant female African-American mathematicians—Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer), and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe)—who worked on the complex formulas that enabled American astronauts like John Glenn to orbit the earth, and paved the way for future NASA projects that eventually sent a team to land on the moon.
Each of these women were working mothers trying to provide for their families while pursuing their own educational and professional goals. Katherine Johnson had worked as the only black female “computer” on a team of NASA mathematicians and engineers who were exclusively white males. In addition to checking each of her colleagues’ calculations by the end of the work day, she had to endure running about a mile across a parking lot just to use the “colored” restroom in a completely different building located in NASA’s west wing. Dorothy Vaughn had been applying for the position of “Supervisor” for her team of female computers for over a year, facing one rejection after another despite her dedicated work and her qualifications of fulfilling all of the responsibilities of a supervisor without the official title and compensation. Mary Jackson had aspired to work as an engineer for NASA, but in order to do so, she needed to convince a judge at her local courthouse to allow her to enroll in an all-white high school that offered evening classes for advanced mathematics and physics.
Their unique, personal stories as working women of color in the fields of science, mathematics, and technology highlight the struggle to succeed and advance at a segregated workplace. Their individual struggles with confronting the intersections of racial and gender discrimination make their eventual successes that much more of a bittersweet triumph, especially at a crucial time of political unrest, racial tensions, and cultural revolution in American history, with the 1960s Civil Rights movement in full swing and the burgeoning second wave of feminism.
Hidden Figures is a rare, extraordinary film that shows audiences the stories of three courageous pioneering women who challenged the status quo constantly at the workplace and as citizens whose country did not grant them full equal protection under the law. The brilliant dialogue within the script, the funny and lively personalities of the protagonists, and the way in which each of them handled their hardships with grace and professionalism, provides us with a source of inspiration and well of strength to draw from as we face our own personal battles as we answer the question of what it means to succeed and be part of the American Dream. Hidden Figures is a must-see film for everyone to learn about and honor those heroes whose previously untold stories need to be shared for future generations, celebrating diversity and equal rights for women and people of color in the spirit of American innovation and ingenuity.
Playing now in wide release at theaters.