Suzanne and I saw Hidden Figures recently. It’s an excellent, well-crafted movie about the successes of three black women in the pre-integration South. The all-star cast includes Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae, Kevin Costner, and Kirsten Dunst.
Hidden Figures is based on the true stories of Katherine Goble, later Katherine G. Johnson (Henson), Mary Jackson (Monae), and Dorothy Vaughn (Spencer), who were instrumental in the early days of the space program. When we meet them, they are driving to work at NASA Langley in the Norfolk area, in 1961. Their car breaks down and a policeman comes by. Eventually, they manage to get the car fixed and be on their way.
The women are working in the “colored” computing section in the East building on the Langley campus. They aspire to bigger and better. Dorothy is the supervisor, but does not have a supervisor’s title or pay. Instead, that title belongs to Vivian Mitchell, a white woman (Dunst.)
We watch the three women as they move in their careers. Katherine is assigned to an all-white, all-male computing unit where she is supposed to be checking the other employees’ calculations. Instead, she figures out the launch angles needed to ensure John Glenn (well played by Glen Powell) gets in orbit and home again – especially when his mission has to be cut short. In a meeting, Glenn specifically requests her to check calculations. Mary goes to court to get permission to take engineering classes at an all-white school. Gloria borrows a FORTRAN book (“FORTRAN is the wave of the future”) from the “white” section of the library and reads it, then winds up working on programming the new IBM mainframe computer.
At one point, Katherine’s boss, Al (Costner), tells her that there is more to going to the Moon than simply mathematics. You have to believe it. Later, he asks her why she disappears a couple of times a day for 40 minutes at a time. Katherine explains that she has to run all the way across the campus back to the East building because that’s where the “colored” bathrooms are. Al takes down the “white” and “colored” sign and announces that “we all pee the same color.” At the sloe of the movie, after Katherine’s calculations bring Glenn safely home, Al asks her “Katherine, do you think we can get to the Moon?” She responds, “We’re already there, Sir.”
The real Katherine Johnson is still alive, 98 years old. Today, there is a Katherine G. Johnson Building at NASA Langley.
There are a number of metaphysical themes in this movie. Obviously, unity is a theme in the removal of the color distinctions for the bathrooms. (History records that the cafeteria remained segregated for a while.) Reaching for a dream is central to New Thought. As Oscar Hammerstein asked, “If you don’t have a dream, how you gonna have a dream come true?”
All three women are doing that. Mary’s dream is to be an engineer. Gloria learns programming and becomes essential to the operations there, with several people working under her, including her former supervisor. And of course, Katherine’s exchange with Al at the very end of the movie shows the power of having a vision. “We’re already there.”
This is a well done movie that won several Golden Globe awards and is nominated for a number of Oscars, including Best Picture. It’s inspiring and well done. I think you’ll enjoy it. This is definitely a movie worth seeing.