History is not always made by the big names that are in the headlines. It is sometimes made by those who are not in the spotlight.
In the 1960’s, the Space Race was heating up. It was also a time of change in America. The Civil Rights movement forced the country to face it’s shameful past of denying human and legal rights to the African-American community.
Katherine Johnson may not have known it at the time, but she had a role to play in changing America for the better. Mrs. Johnson passed away today at the age of 101.
In her day, she was automatically disqualified for certain jobs because she was a woman and a citizen of color. But when push came to shove, her mathematical abilities overcame those barriers and helped America go into space for the first time.
After decades of silence, she was finally given her due in the 2016 film, Hidden Figures. She was played on screen by Taraji P. Henson.
Change does not often come in large bright bursts. It sometimes appears in small bursts that takes years to be noticed and appreciated.
In the new movie Hidden Figures, Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae) are three African-American women working for NASA at the beginning of 1960’s. Like most of America at that time, NASA is segregated. Then the space race heats up and these women are called to step up to the plate.
Katherine’s new job is under the supervision of Al Harrison (Kevin Costner). While Mr. Harrison appreciates her work, Paul Stafford (Jim Parsons) is not quite pleased about his new colleague. Dorothy has been acting as the unofficial manager for the West Computer Department (the department where all of the African-American women are segregated to). She is clearly qualified for the official manager position in the West Computer department as well as the supervising the women who work with the IBM computer that is keeping America in the space race. But her manager, Vivian Mitchell (Kirsten Dunst) is not keen on promoting Dorothy. Mary has the talent, the experience and the skill to become an engineer, but, the color of her skin is keeping her from reaching her goal. Going before a judge, she asks to be enrolled in a segregated school that will allow her to fulfill the requirements to become an engineer.
The thing that strikes me (besides the fact that I saw it appropriately on Martin Luther King Jr. Day), is not only is the narrative still completely relevant, but it teaches without hitting the audience over the head. These women worked quietly in the background for decades without being heralded as the heroes they are. There is a lot of talk these days on how to get girls interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). I would hope this movie inspires young girls of all colors, faiths and nationalities to walk in the footsteps of Katherine, Dorothy and Mary.
This film, I should also add is funny, human and has a huge heart.
I absolutely recommend it and I will not be surprised if a few Oscar nominations are sent in the direction of this film.