I recently saw Hidden Figures, the new movie starring Taraji P. Henson, Janelle Monáe, and Octavia Spencer as the three most influential African American women in NASA who put America ahead in the Space Race against Soviet Russia. Hidden Figures is based on a true story and not only defies stereotypical Hollywood images of black women, but also tells a history we don’t always get from our Eurocentric textbooks. The story can be appreciated for its historical content but I would like to acknowledge the cinematographic genius that makes this movie a must-see.
The movie opens with the three women standing on the side of the road with their broken down 56 (or 55, I couldn’t tell) Chevy Bel Air. Olivia Spencer, who plays Dorothy Vaughan, is in the process of repairing the vehicle when a cop car approaches the three women. Initially, some might watch this and think, “help is on the way”, but the women are immediately stricken with fear. Dorothy calms her friends by saying “Ain’t no crime in a broken-down car” to which Mary Jackson (Monáe) responds with “Ain’t no crime in being Negro, neither”. This I believe is the perfect way to introduce the movie and set the stage for the unjust discrimination they face. Throughout the movie the women experience discrimination against their race and gender to which the director makes it a point to also make the audience uncomfortable through music, colors, language, etc.
Hidden Figures focuses on the experiences of black women rather than romanticizing white allyship. Black women making contributions to history are the hidden figures in America.