“Hidden Figures,” an important film about struggle and will power, is the feature film at the Many Community Center Saturday night, Sept.16, at the Many Community Center. The free movie will begin at 7 p.m. Pictured above, three African American female scientists worked for NASA in the early1960s and paved the way for African Americans and women to work in the fields of science and technology.
The film centers on these three pioneering African American women whose calculations for NASA were integral to several historic space missions, including John Glenn’s successful orbit of the Earth. These women—Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson, and Dorothy Vaughan—were superlative mathematicians and engineers despite starting their careers in segregation-era America and facing discrimination at home, at school, and at work.
The film celebrates individual mettle, but also the way its characters consistently try to lift others up. They’re phenomenal at what they do, but they’re also generous with their time, their energy, and their patience in a way that feels humane, not saintly. By showing the overlooked lives and accomplishments of Johnson, Vaughan, and Jackson, “Hidden Figures” manages to be more than an inspiring history lesson with wonderful performances.
“Hidden Figures” begins in earnest in 1961. Katherine, Mary, and Dorothy are part of NASA’s pool of human “computers” —employees, usually women, charged with doing calculations before the use of digital computers. Due to segregation laws, African American female computers have to work in a separate “colored” building at the Langley Research Center in Virginia.
But the U.S. is so desperate to beat the Soviet Union into space that NASA becomes a reluctant meritocracy: Because of her expertise in analytic geometry, Katherine is assigned to a special task group trying to get Glenn into orbit. She arrives at her new job to find she’s the sole black face in the room.
Katherine is closest to the excitement, but “Hidden Figures” widens its scope beyond her. Mary must navigate layers of racist bureaucratic hurdles in her quest to become an engineer. Dorothy is fighting for a long overdue promotion, while the arrival of an IBM machine threatens to put her team of computers out of work.
The women consistently out-think their higher-ranked (usually white, male) colleagues, whether by learning a new programming language, solving problems in wind-tunnel experiments, or calculating narrow launch windows for space missions. Each is uniquely aware of the broader stakes of her success—for other women, for black people, for black women, and for America at large—and this knowledge is as much an inspiration as it is a heavy weight.
The film only portrays a fraction of the individuals who worked on the space program—and the experiences of the many African American women working at NASA at the time.
Despite its historical lesson, the movie is entertaining and worthy of seeing. “Hidden Figures” shines with respect for the accomplishments of women in science and technology and imparts a profound appreciation for what was achieved in history’s shadows.
“Hidden Figures” is an important film brought to you by Movies in Many, an ongoing program provided twice monthly at the Many Community Center by Many Mayor Ken Freeman, the Town of Many Cultural District Advisory Committee, and the Many City Council.
Admission is always free at Movies in Many. Concessions are only $1 for popcorn and soft drinks.
Movies in Many is part of efforts to bring entertainment, the arts, and events to Many so its citizens don’t have to travel elsewhere for “something to do.”