Reporter reviews film about African American women working for NASA
By Gabrielle Smallwood
It is a rarity for American history to recognize the accomplishments of African Americans who are not Abolitionists and Civil Rights Activists. Hundreds of heroes remain unsung, particularly the ‘hidden figures’ of NASA. Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson and Dorothy Vaughn, the three “computers,” achieved heterogeneity in science, mathematics and technology. Their vital contributions to our society are revealed in the film “Hidden Figures.”
Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson) is a young mathematician who grows up to work for NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va. Aside from her work, she is a widowed mother of three girls. Johnson meets a United States Army officer who she eventually falls in love with and marries. Being one of the human “computers,” Johnson gets an opportunity to assist Al Harrison (Kevin Costner), director of the space program, to send American astronauts into space. In the end, Johnson’s knowledge allows astronaut John Glenn to circle the Earth’s orbit.
Mary Johnson (Janelle Monáe) is the lighthearted woman of the bunch. She does not have a problem exposing her sassiness and expressing her mind. Wanting to further her education to become an engineer, she petitions Virginia’s legislature to attend a ‘whites only’ school. Once obtaining certification at the University of Virginia, Johnson becomes NASA’s first female Black engineer.
Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer) plays the mentor and maternal figure to the characters. Taking over from a previous supervisor, she became the acting head of the “human computers” without the title or pay. The space program brought an IBM non-human computer that put Vaughn and her co-workers’ jobs in jeopardy. She quickly learned the FORTRAN from a library book, while everyone else was stuck on how to operate the machine. After training her co-workers on the programming language, Vaughn is made supervisor of the programming department and takes them with her.
“Hidden Figures” portrays the epitome of “Black girl magic.” These women are educated, independent and are the heroes of white America. This film amalgamates comedy, drama and racial tension. These three women proved that their gifts prevailed over the segregation and sexism of that time period. Their work helped the United States win the space race.