After being thoroughly disgusted with the artistic license taken on the life of Alan Turing in The Imitation Game, I was dreading reading about the inaccuracies within Hidden Figures, the movie featuring black women (African-American, if you prefer) who ran calculations–literally they were called “computers”–for NASA during the space race. Thankfully, the inaccuracies were minor and forgivable.
I must say, though, for once I agree with the criticism of “white saviorism” by the left when in the movie Al Harrison (played by Kevin Costner), the director of the task group for Katherine Goble Johnson, is shown to tear down a colored women’s restroom sign. The incident never happened and I don’t see why it was necessary to include? Fact is, it seems to take away from the resourcefulness and determination of Katherine who, when needing to pee like any other human being, just used the white women’s restroom. When someone complained she ignored it and continued to pee in that restroom because it only made sense. Apparently Katherine didn’t have time to be concerned about some white woman’s offense at sharing the bathroom. There was a space race on.
But besides that nonsense, there’s no need to feel like the movie embellished the abilities of these smart black women for dramatic effect. Katherine Goble Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson were real. Their accomplishments speak for themselves.
The actual disappointment I had after the movie was reading about the decline of black women and women in general in computing after the mid-eighties. Multiple reasons have been given including a marketing preference to sell video games and personal computers to boys. That is certainly changing as I listen to younger women who are video game fans, science enthusiasts, comic book readers and sci-fi readers–female nerdism is steadily rising. It may be culture and it may also be as simple as not understanding there can be different learning styles based on gender (yes, a controversial thought these days, but that question should be asked and explored) and we need to experiment with teaching methods.
Regardless, Hidden Figures should be useful as a tool to remind young black women (and young women of any race) of what they can aspire to. The space race has changed, but it’s still on.