Hidden Figures could well be the feel-good movie of the decade. Heck, Hidden Figures could quite possibly be the most feel-good movie of the new millennium so far. So much to like about this movie, it’s hard to know where to begin.
The movie focuses on three black women in the sixties who against all the odds, got an education, in mathematics no less, and excelled at it so much that they became crucial to the NASA space program. Actually, while the movie focuses on three of them, there was a whole department of black women “calculators” working for NASA doing really really hard math and working under tremendous pressure. And the movie does this in a visually compelling way. It’s difficult to visually show people using their brains and difficult to visually communicate that math is hard, but can be conquered. I can see this moving being used to advocate STEM studies among women and minorities for decades.
But math is upstaged by the women’s fight against institutionalized racism of the day. What I like about it is how matter-of-factly it is presented. How it was such an everyday fact of life thing. It wasn’t stormtroopers banging down doors in the middle of the night or crosses burning in the yard. The movie focuses on the everyday institutionalized racism these women had to face. I think there are probably a lot of people today who have never experienced of seen that kind of racism and I really appreciated how it was presented in the movie. There were the usual things like sitting in the back of the bus, having separate sections of the library, segregated bathrooms. But there were also things like not being allowed to take classes necessary for career advancement because they were only taught at the “white” schools.
But the movie was not about racism or the movement to end segregation. The movie was about the women’s personal stories. The racism was there because it was everywhere. In the end, these women succeeded both because they worked hard and were good at what they did and because they had the courage to confront the individuals who stood in their way and they confronted the racism person-to-person.
And while it’s necessary to have political movements and street protests and all the other sort of revolutionary things you think of when you think of Big Change, it’s also necessary, maybe even more necessary, to confront the racism or whatever the Evil is, one on one, person to person. Because when people are forced to confront their personal actions, their personal part, they tend to change their mind and do the right thing. That’s what I thought was so inspiring about the movie.