They Let Women Do All Sorts of Things – Hidden Figures Review

As you can probably tell from the picture of me on the right (or at the bottom of the page if you’re on mobile) I am white. I also happened to grow up in a very white city with very little access to diversity. Therefore diversity and race is something I’ve really had to come outside of myself to learn about.

Studying Sociology in University was one of the things that really brought me out of my White Suburban Bubble. By White Suburban Bubble I’m referring to the fact that I grew up in an all-white family with almost entirely all-white friends from a very white Catholic school in an incredibly white neighbourhood.

My point is that until university I didn’t have much exposure to issues of race outside of a few lessons in my history classes and the few movies I had seen tackle the issue. Sure, I was still upset by family members using racial slurs or yapping on about stereotypes that I didn’t think were fair to put on anyone but I had not yet really learnt enough to understand it all. University began to change that.

Race is something that comes up over and over again in most Sociology courses. I have talked about race and poverty, race and gender, race and crime, and in my final year I took an advanced seminar on race issues in general which gave me the chance to explore many of these topics in depth. All of this helped open my eyes, not just to the history that I was used to seeing in movies like Hairspray or 12 Years a Slave but to the current state of affairs and the way history had played into that. I read more, I researched, I listened, and I tried my best to understand.

And of course I’m still learning, and I don’t think I’ll ever be done learning.

It is with this context I want to talk about Theodore Melfi’s new film Hidden Figures. The film is based on the true story of some of the African-American women working at NASA during the 1960s space race. I saw this movie twice in the span of a week and while I thought about waiting until February for Black History Month to share my review with you, I figured it was important to get this out there while the film is still in theatres.

Now, I don’t believe it is my place to define the importance of films like Hidden Figures, but I do believe it is valuable for everyone to acknowledge that films like this are absolutely essential, no matter the colour of your skin. Rather than just give you my take on the movie, I want to highlight some of the uplifting reactions I’ve seen on social media, particularly from women of colour who were moved by this masterpiece. Then, at the end I’d like to share my own experience.

The first review I found of the movie was on another WordPress blog: ThinkFashionThenStyle. The review, “Hidden Figures: A Black Girl’s POV”  is not only a lovely highlight of the movie, it’s an uplifting piece of writing that really made me smile. You can feel her energy in every word; in fact, while reading it I almost wished I could go out and see the film again.

“The color of ones skin does not define our beauty, our brilliance nor our abilities to be great.” – ThinkFashionThenStyle

Next I found that Taraji P Henson who stars in the film as Katherine Johnson reposted an image of a young fan whose mother posted the original image to express that her daughter had found a new role model in Henson’s role. This reminded me of the image of young fans with Kristen Wiig when the Ghostbusters remake came out and how inspired they looked. Representation matters especially in the male-dominated world of STEM education.

Next up is a review I found from a retired teacher here on WordPress. You’ve of course heard to never judge a book by it’s cover, but in this case never judge a blog post by it’s title. The post “Hidden Figures Made Me Want to Spit Nails!” by Pamela Barbee Marshall certainly drew me in with it’s bold title but it is the content of this post that I think is really important to share. The post talks about how there is so much missing history in today’s education system, how so much goes untaught and not talked about. This is certainly and unfortunately true from my experience.

“I am angry because after 38 years of teaching, I had never ever heard the story of these amazing women. Not once has any of their names been attached to the history books or curriculum guides, noting their monumental contribution to the space program. And it was monumental!” – Pamela Barbee Marshall

I am thankful for films like Hidden Figures for opening my eyes to a history I didn’t know about, though I find it terribly worrisome that there are so many films that do just that. I’m someone who takes pride in knowing a lot about history but there is a lot missing from the books I’ve read in and out of school. It makes you really wonder if you’re just learning what a few people want you to learn instead of knowing the whole story.

In searching for more voices to include in this review I happened to stumble upon a lovely story about Katherine Jackson’s great-grandson, Trevor Boykin, who organized a screening of the film in his great-grandmother’s honour. Part of the proceeds from the screening were put into a scholarship fund for a future STEM student at the University of Guam where Boykin studies.

There are many more lovely reviews on WordPress if you search Hidden Figures and lots of great reactions in the #hiddenfigures tag on Instagram so definitely check them out. I wanted to highlight more but this post is turning into a novel!

For me, this movie was incredibly important, not only in order to further my learning but also to inspire me as a woman. Katherine Johnson, along with Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, are three women we could all inspire to be more like: bold, intelligent, and invincible.

Moving to the city has had an impact on me that I never really expected. It has come from being around more cultures, more races, more diversity. I loved every moment of Hidden Figures but it was actually the experience of watching it that has really stuck with me. When I first saw the film the majority of the audience I was in consisted of people of colour. I didn’t really think anything about this at first, it was just another night in North York, but the moment the movie started I realized that the make up of the audience actually mattered.

Being in a theatre with people of colour brought an energy to the room that overwhelmed me in the best ways possible. The people around me were vocal: they sneered, they groaned, they applauded, and they cheered. It was something that could have been considered distracting but I found it inspiring to be sitting amongst people who could see their own struggles and their own feelings in these women. I believe my experience of the film was heightened simply by being in this room full of strangers.

I strongly encourage you to go see this movie. It’s completely family friendly (Rated PG) and is definitely an excellent option for a family night out. Let it start a conversation that needs to be had. A conversation that, like the women in the film, should never be hidden.

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