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How Hidden Figures Reminded Me of the Importance of Intersectionality

Unless you’ve been ignoring the months of excitement around Hidden Figures (Not Hidden Fences), you know that this is the movie focusing on Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe), three African American women who acted as NASA computers and helped the US get into space. Nothing I can say would truly do this movie justice, but I’m just going to jump in about how this movie really solidified the importance of representing intersectionality in media for me.

I think that there’s a lot of talk about intersectionality (coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989) particularly in academia. However, it’s not often properly or even attempted to be represented in media. Intersectionality is the study of overlapping or intersecting social identities and related systems of oppression, domination, or discrimination. These identities include class, sex, gender, race, etc. Hidden Figures does a swell job of showing the difficulty Johnson, Vaughn, and Jackson faced because they were people of color, because they were women, and then because they were women of color.

Here’s an example (spoiler alert?): When Jackson wants to apply to become an engineer, she doesn’t think she can and her husband doesn’t think she can because she’s a woman. When she finally decides to do it anyway, she has to get a court order to take classes at an all white school because she is a person of color. Then, when she gets into the class, she is looking at a room full of white men. The first thing the teacher says is something along the lines of “we haven’t modified the curriculum for a woman (Because math works like that).”

This happens throughout. From Dorothy Vaughn being belittled by her white female supervisor for being “colored”, to Johnson being stopped from going into a briefing because she was a woman and there was no protocol. Not to mention Johnson’s suitor underestimating women working in the STEM field as a Black man talking to a Black woman. There was just so much realness coming from all sides. After seeing the film, I reflected on my own life when oppression or doubt of my abilities hit me from multiple sides. From being Black, to being a woman, to being a bigger girl, and more. But if there’s anything I learned from this truly amazing movie, it’s that as an intelligent, driven, young woman of color, I have value and purpose in life.

All in all, my skin is clear; my GPA has risen; and my soul is pure, all thanks to the hidden figures behind NASA’s space jazz. Add this one to the “iconic” list, people. I’m going to need to see it a million more times and I’ll need the DVD too.


Teri is in the Class of '18 at Chatham University. She is a Communications-Journalism major, Editor-in-Chief of The Chatham Post, and president of the Omicron Delta Kappa honor society. Her passions are writing, leadership, and encouraging people in any way she can.
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