A couple of years ago when ISRO sent India’s first Mars Orbiter into space, a picture of a few women scientists celebrating the success in the ISRO control room draped in colorful saris went viral on social media. It was both a heartwarming image of women power and a glum reminder that we still get surprised seeing women in a control room of a space project in this day and age. This week’s latest release, Hidden Figures, celebrates the unflinching willpower of three black women trying to help NASA in it’s ambitious project of launching a human into space, at the same time, fighting a dogged crusade against discrimination and colour bias.
ISRO women scientists celebrating ‘Mangalyaan’ success
Taraji P. Henson plays Katherine G. Johnson, a mathematician who calculated flight trajectories for Project Mercury and other missions, Octavia Spencer as Dorothy Vaughan the supervisor of the data computing group and Janelle Monáe as Mary Jackson, NASA’s first black female aeronautical engineer. Despite being a movie which touches on the subject of racial bigotry within the larger canvas of the power struggle between USA and Russia for dominance in space, the movie is alleviated by the chemistry between the leads and the ever present comic timing. Director Theodore Melfi, in only his second feature, displays amazing maturity in handling a story woven around the first manned space mission and marrying the premise with the Civil Rights Movement which had taken force during the 60s. and he is helped by the charismatic presence of three ladies who own every scene they are in and take the audience along in their fight for equal opportunities.
There is one scene in the movie where Katherine Goble is recruited as a human computer (yes, this was the age of having human mathematicians doing complex calculations before the IBM came along) and she has to go through the tribulation of running to a ‘coloured women lavatory’ every time she needed to relieve herself. This goes on for a few times until Al Harrison, played inspiringly by Kevin Costner, who is in charge of the Space Task Group confronts her for taking long breaks between work. The usually soft-spoken Katherine suddenly lets loose a rant which silences the male dominated room. Harrison is ashamed and takes it upon himself to literally bring down the gender and colour divide in NASA with a hammer in hand and commenting, “here in NASA, we all pee the same colour!”. This and many other scenes help weave a story which might have been lost in all the hullaballoo of becoming the first in the two-man space struggle, but is one story which had to be told.
A common feature throughout the movie is the confidence in the overall demeanor of the ladies and the smiling faces in circumstances which will surely make the audience cringe. To watch such biasness on the basis of colour and the racial slurs thrown at our leading women is no doubt a difficult watch but the strength of character of the three women keeps us glued and rooting for them to fight their way ahead.
No wonder the movie has garnered universal plaudits and a Oscar nomination for best picture for its uplifting storyline and the story is relevance in today’s time when America has moved a few steps back by electing a president who is generally divisive on the basis of ethnicity. The movie stars a horde of popular actors in supporting roles like Jim Parsons, in the role of a disapproving head engineer Paul Stafford, and Kirsten Dunst, as a supervisor who is cold towards Dorothy Vaughan’s repeated plea for promotion but ultimately budges to her conscience and the honesty of Mrs Vaughan’s work. Director Melfi uses historical sequences and clips from speeches by Martin Luther King Jr. and President Kennedy to emphasize on the high stakes of the Space struggle and also put the stories of the women in context.
Hidden Figures is every bit a story of women empowerment as is a historical commentary of times when the colour of your skin made you different right from your birth. Equal opportunity struggle, Civil rights struggle and gender struggle depicted brilliantly in a movie which will surely win a lots of hearts. Watch this without fail!
Gobblpoint—Strong independent women in an era where being strong was the only option to rise above and get noticed. Hidden Figures is a story which will make you appreciate history and the struggle which we have only read about in books.