Need Inspiration? Look to “Hidden Figures”
By Skip Sheffield
“Hidden Figures” is a play on words. The three main characters are math geniuses hidden away in the Langley, Virginia headquarters of NASA in the year 1961. They are the hidden figures behind the technical breakthrough that enabled John Glenn (Glen Powell) to become the first American astronaut to orbit the globe.
The screenplay, co-written by director Theodore Malfi (“St. Vincent”) is based on a book by Margot Lee Shetterly, who dramatized a true story.
There is another reason the figures remained hidden. They were African American women in a Virginia that was still under strict segregation.
The women are Katherine G. Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae). We see the women as little girls, amazing their teachers and fellow students with their prowess with abstract figures and complicated mathematical equations. Then we see them as grown women, going to another day’s work at NASA when their car breaks down. A cop comes by prepared to hassle them, but when he learns who they work for, he provides a police escort.
The women are forced to endure indignities at NASA, including separate restrooms and separate dining room. The colored restrooms were in a separate building some distance away. When Katherine Johnson’s supervisor, Al Harrison (Kevin Costner) asked about her mysterious absences from the work place, she explained the restroom situation.
Al Harrison had a reputation as a tyrant, but he bristled at the injustices black employees were forced to suffer. On the spot he ordered the desegregation of all NASA facilities, despite the fact the order was breaking Virginia law.
There are many more indignities and injustices the women endured, but they prevailed and succeeded despite all obstacles, not the least of which was being working moms. Stay until the end of the film and you’ll see the real-life “Hidden Figures.” It is truly inspiring.