The Trump Takeaway Behind the Movie, Hidden Figures
Ever so often a film comes out that carries more meaning, more weight, more value than any other films regardless of its genre. Such is the case of the movie, Hidden Figures, the true story about three black American women working for the National Aeronautic Space Administration (NASA) during the early part of the 1960's. The women, Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, played respectively by Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae, were the women who were in a collective with other black American women in NASA's computer service pool that many of them were support personnel for their white contemporaries. Jackson, Vaughan and Johnson were the exceptional ones. They had become the standard bearers to a whole other world that black women were not suppose to be a part of and that was in the field of science and mathematics. They were the unrecognized heroes during the heyday of the space race between the Soviet Union and the United States. But before the film jumped to this time frame, it first took us back to an earlier time of a younger Katherine Johnson nay Katherine Coleman, when she was an eight or ten year old child.
The younger Katherine, played graciously by Lidya Jewett, explores a time in our history and with black youth that is total unrecognizable and foreign to the senses. We get to witness the younger version of Katherine having this gift for math and geometry.
What is also remarkable is seeing how the class reacts to her prowess as a mathematician. There was no snide comments , bitterness or pettiness we've come to expect with this generation of Twitter battles over the most stupid and agonizingly insipid things. Of course you also had to accept the fact that it was in the late 1920's and pettiness wasn't born into black culture then. Blacks were dealing with the Jim Crow laws that were oppressing many blacks during that time. But still, the behavior is what I took away from that scene. There was truly a sense of wonder because the vehicle in that scene was about attaining one's education. It was a moment where you would mourn for the loss to knowledge that today's youth just don't have a tolerance for and would rather have the heads bent forward into their smartphones or tablets.
Fast forward and Katherine is a widowed mother of three girls in 1961. She, along with her two cohorts, are broke down on the road to work and a white police officer pulls up and harass them just to flex his authority. Mary Jackson, the more vocally assertive of the three, wants to push back on the authoritarianism but the other two encourage her to restrain her efforts and she takes a more submissive tone with the police officer. And as she does, the tone shifts a bit from a viewer's point of view. This scene represents the first symbol of racism, the bigoted white police officer flexing his power as he laud over three black women. But this racism is diffused by all three women who allow themselves to be humble in his presence and not escalate the situation and they do so effectively by demonstrating their intelligence in very subtle tones. And as I watched this scene, I felt a twinge of moral outrage that even though this happened so many years ago, the impact still hold a weight on your consciousness.
As we start to get into the heart of the film, Katherine is selected to do mathematical computations as a backup to the other NASA scientist just to provide a security backup in the initial limited capacity that was doled out to her. Under redacted reports, her job became frustrating as she could not fully perform the assignment that was given to her. Compounding this effort was the fact that NASA had a policy of segregation within its workforce. Restrooms and drinking fountains were assigned as “colored” and “whites”. The only restroom Katherine could use was a long way from where she was assigned and she had to trek a great distance just to use the “colored” restrooms. This brings up another racist vestige to the forefront, the specter of separating the water fountains and the restrooms has more significance over another. They same labeling was applied to the coffee pots as well with the “colored” one not even being made ready for coffee. But I must remember that these were the times that they lived in.
Mary Jackson, the woman who would become the first black female engineer at NASA had her share of discrimination as well. There were policies in place that stated that blacks, and especially a female black, could not advance to be an engineer without certain qualifications even with a degree and she held a Bachelor of Science degree. She had to sue to go back to high school to earn the course curriculum needed in order for her to become an engineer.
I was getting more incensed by the moment with every racist slight these women endured. And I was generally shocked that these women's story never graced the history pages during my formative years and that other films like The Right Stuff, failed to give them their acknowledgment and contribution to the space program. Two of the three women have died without receiving any noteworthy praise for their part in contributing to the NASA environment. And my outrage grows.
Dorothy Vaughan role is NASA was just as remarkable. With NASA's introduction of the IBM mainframe computers of the time that were Fortran computer based language, Dorothy had the foresight to learn the language and teach it to the other women in the computer pool. As I watched her story, I couldn't believe that even the public library was segregated. She had to “appropriate”, I will not use the word 'steal', a book on the Fortran language and she learned it all on her own without any assistance or guidance from anyone.
And while NASA was and is a part of the U.S. government, it was the first institution mandated to hire minorities. And even though it did, racism and sexism still rule the order of life. When Katherine made attempts to be included in the proceedings with the NASA program, her gender played more against her than her race. As she had each obstacle removed, the perceptions were also removed when she demonstrated her ability to do the work. She was a pioneer in that regard and every woman in the space program have her to thank for that.
Keven Costner said that his role was an amalgamation of several people so I do not know if there ever was a person who took a crowbar and tore down the colored restroom sign or that this person served as the metaphorical crowbar for Katherine Johnson to get through those doors. If there ever was such a real person, they should acknowledge him as being a contributing agent because one person does not go into battle alone.
So, what does this film about three black American women have to do with Donald Trump? In a nutshell, it has a lot to with with being disappointed and facing stumbling blocks and doing what you have to do and persevering in spite of your circumstances. I find it interesting that mostly the liberal white Americans are losing their mind over Trump's victory in the general election. There have been protests, fights, smear tactics and the like over his election to the highest office in the land. And as I watched this film, I began to put it into a perspective that perhaps the liberal white Americans should accept and acknowledge. For a long time in the history of this country, minorities have accepted the brunt of social ills for generations. It took 55 years for us to hear about this remarkable achievement of three minority women in the space program and yet a film entitled Sid & Nancy, about punk rockers Sid Vicious and his girlfriend, Nancy Spungen, was made five years after his death.
The minority community have come to accept the dysfunctional, apathetic, disenfranchising, maligning approach to what is considered fairness in this country. Donald Trump, a billionaire, won over Hillary Clinton, a millionaire. So why are the white liberals losing their minds over this? Perhaps because they do not understand what it feels like to be on the losing in for so many things. They don't know how to accept defeat in such glorious terms. Everyone ones to point blame at this or that and totally ignore the root cause to their defeat. They need to understand what it means to be a person of color. They need to take a cue from Barack Obama, from Deepak Chopra, from Cesar Chavez, from Booker T. Washington, from Madame C.J. Walker, from Rita Morena, people who understand what the obstacles are from being a person of color in America and what it took to overcome those barriers. And just because people of color have been forced to deal with these barriers, it does not mean that all hope is lost, it just mean that another approach needs to be made in order to overcome these barriers.
President Obama had to prove everyday to the American people and to the conservative arm of Congress that he was entitled to the job and he had to work twice as hard to prove it. This perception and attitude is with every person of color. It is the unwritten rule that is never discussed in polite company but it is always there underneath every thing that is expected with a person of color and this is reflected in quiet tomes in the film.
When Katherine Johnson finally explodes in the film about what she has to do to get to the restroom, it was something her white counterparts couldn't fathom doing and wouldn't do if the situation were on the other foot. This slice represents more than just a bathroom break, it represents the nature of what people of color endure. So Hillary lost and Donald won, get over yourselves. The country wasn't founded on a bunch of whiners. We have other better things to do, to accomplish, as did these women. These were real American women who happened to be black and who faced racism and misogyny and sexism and took it with their heads held high. Why can't we learn from them?