March 2nd, 2018
by: Camila Pozo J
Women in STEM have often been hindered and held back by society’s misconception by years. In a wonderful performance, Octavia Spencer, Taraji P. Henson, and Janelle Monae clearly portray the story of three African-American women, Dorothy Vaughan, Katherine Johnson, and Mary Jackson that in the 1960s used to worked for NASA. Hidden Figures, directed by Theodore Melfi, demonstrates the struggle and the limitations these women experienced due to their race, gender. This film is based on a book by Margot Lee Shetterly. They were really underestimated by the NASA officials, and worked hard to achieve what they knew was possible. The knew they could be much more than telephonist, receptionist, or assistants; the typical jobs for female at that time. They believed that their skills were valuable and important for the success of the NASA projects and that by working alongside with the men who were currently working on those projects, they could achieve something greater. After Johnson proved her exceptional mathematical talent, she was promoted to work closely with NASA’s main engineers. Here she encountered much more racism by her white male coworkers. Vaughan was in a different department, and when she saw a new IBM computer coming in, she realized that this new technology will make women’s coding job unnecessary. To respond to this change, she self-taught the new FORDRAM program and by doing so gets promoted to participate in important projects. Furthermore, Jackson enrolled herself to a segregated high school in Virginia to attend night classes in order to get an engineering degree. She was the first black female to be employed as an engineer at NASA. They finally demonstrated their capabilities and served as the heads for one of the greatest projects in history, John Glenn’s launch.
This very accurate, entertaining, and impactful movie received the approval of many. As a movie about gender inequality and women struggle, it received a lot of support from feminist and gender equality movements. Additionally, the movie was able to show how each of these women proceeded to earn respect in their positions. This struggle for women to earn respect in their positions and equal opportunities it is still a priority in feminist movements today. When the film was released in 2016, women opportunities and capabilities was a topic discussed constantly and it is still an ongoing movement. Furthermore, what makes this film unique and stand out from other movies is that these women were empowering themselves to make a change and reach their dreams. Nobody was helping them or encouraging them to fight for what they wanted. They had the courage, power, and confidence to do them by themselves. Additionally, this movie was nominated by the National Board of Review as one of the top ten films in 2016 and it was nominated for Oscars, Golden Globes, and others. This movie is usually described by using words such as: inspiring, empowering, respectful, honest, accurate, moving, and trivial.
Some of the criticism that this movie has received is that it lacks the historical content that was happening during that time. In an article by The Guardian, they mention that this movie does not include the fact that these women were working to help the US fight the Cold War and that it is missing certain other necessary elements that were present in the book. Although I acknowledge the importance of this information and the criticism that many viewers present, I believe that the lack of information did not take away anything from the movie and that the film was still able to transmit its powerful and empowering message.
In my opinion, this movie is very moving and accurate. It not only depicts the story of these women, but it also show the struggle that most women experienced during that time. Back home when I talked about my desire to choose a STEM related career, many told me that they did not recommend this career for a woman and that I won’t be as successful as I hope. This made me doubt my desires, but it never led me to change my major. When I saw this movie, I was empowered and even more encouraged to study engineering. I saw that it is possible and I am aware and determined not to let anyone underestimate my capabilities because of my gender.
I wanted to know more opinions of this film from my community and from younger viewers. To achieve this, I interviewed some Georgia Tech students and asked them about their opinion on the movie and as girls interested in stem careers how they were impacted by the film. The first girl i interviewed was Monica De Armas, a first year Industrial Engineering student. She said “The first time I watched Hidden Figures (yes, I’m guilty of binge watching this amazing film various time afterwards), I was an emotional wreck. Watching these women of color persevere and succeed in an industry very much run by white males at the time, was incredibly inspiring and motivating. The struggle that these women faced, having to compete with the others not only on a purely academic platform but on a social one as well, rekindled a desire to choose a STEM-related career path. I realize now that this is definitely not the easiest path, but it wasn’t for the women who devoted their lives to NASA either. Their struggles and the criticism that they faced showed me that the greater the obstacle, the greater the reward—and also that working in NASA is pretty cool.” She later commented that she was inspired to continue her STEM career and that will never accept an underestimation or limitation from any future coworker based on her gender.
Another international freshmen, Gabriella Marenco, stated that she was “motivated when she learned that during that time that group of women were capable of beating the constant constraints and achieve a big contribution to the science field.” She also feels that this contribution is one that needs to be recognized and cannot be ignored. Additionally she said that “coming from a latin background, when talking about her interest in stem careers she sometimes feel that people underestimate or doubt her capabilities and that this film inspired her to try harder and dream even further”.
This movie is clearly impactful movie and contributed to the gender equality movement and showed the roots of the struggles that women experienced during the 1960s. Most importantly, it inspired many women to show what they are capable of and to continue working in STEM related careers. If you want to learn more about the opportunities that movies such as this one have helped to create by inspiring others, go to the future section of this magazine.
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