Here’s how to deal with the fact that a great orange buffoon is getting sworn into our highest office: go see Hidden Figures. Just go. Go see black women fighting misogyny and racism and Jim Crow while doing badass math. You need to see that right now.
*This review is mostly spoiler-free*
Take your children to go see it. Yes, even the young ones. Yes, even the teens. Look: I was in a theater full of little kids and teenagers, and they were sitting there beside unrelated adults up to the age of probably-watched-John-Glenn-orbit-live-on-teevee-with-their-own-kids, and apparently they were all riveted. I have never been to a movie that full of young folk who were so extraordinarily quiet. I’ve never been in an auditorium packed with nearly 400 people of all ages and had such an uninterrupted experience. The kids will do fine, and they need to see this.
Hollywood put out a movie about black women doing math, and it was spellbinding. I never thought they’d try. And since they tried, I never thought they’d do it with so much math and so few explosions. They had exploding rockets, but seemed almost embarrassed to mention them. There was a love story, but only because one of the real women this movie is based on actually got married in the middle of our race to space. It wasn’t shoved in just to hook our emotions, and you get the feeling they’d rather be doing more math. The movie stayed remarkably true to actual, historical events.
You’ll get to meet three of the most extraordinary women in our country’s scientific history: Katherine Goble (later Johnson), Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson. You will get to see them be math nerds. You will get to see them have interests other than marriage and children. Hell, you’ll even get to see one of them fix a car. In a dress. Did you know women could fix cars while wearing dresses? Well, now you do.
You’ll get to see three black women star in their own story, as heroes, not as sidekicks and inspirations to white people. This wasn’t a story about white people learning how not to be racist gits (although several white people learned this, the movie isn’t about them). This wasn’t a story about three career women trying to also balance their roles as wives and mothers (although they were). This wasn’t a story about men learning how to deal with career women, women smarter than them, and figuring out how not to be sexist gits (although this all happens).
This was a story about three black women doing math, and overcoming a lot of societal obstacles in order to be able to do math. This was about women getting us into space with their incredible math skills, even though racist whites and sexist men sometimes made it much harder than it needed to be. This movie took three black women mathematicians, and made them the heroes, even though there were a couple of heroic white men it could’ve centered on. And it worked. It worked so much better by centering those women.
We need stories like this. Especially now.
We need stories that center women of color and put the men and the white people into supporting roles as helpers and/or adversaries. We need stories that center the people whose work enables us to launch ourselves at the stars. We need stories that show us how much we can overcome, and how far we can go.
This is one of those stories.
It’s also a time machine that takes us back to and drops us in the midst of an era in which white people were so afraid of black people that they wouldn’t even share a coffee pot with them. We white people need to see this. We need to see how ridiculous “separate but equal” was. Hidden Figures shows us that. And it shows us what it’s like to try to get on with your life in the midst of social upheaval and the struggle for equal rights. It shows us how you can be a part of that, even if you can’t march or picket or protest in the streets.
We need to see that.
This is another such era, and we need to see how it’s done.This movie shows us how we can be a part of that change: how minorities can demand equal rights, and how allies can support them, and why we must.
I came away from this movie with a whole new appreciation of diversity. It’s not just a buzzword, folks. It’s necessary for us to be our best. The whole nation is stronger when we all unite, when we break the barriers and let go of old prejudices.*
Hidden Figures is so much more than just a movie about some women doing math. It’s a myriad of stories beautifully told. It’s an anthem to human achievement. It’s a love story about science and exploration. And it’s an inspiration to those of us who want to make a better world.
Go see it.
Be ready to cry some of the best tears of your life.
*Note: I am speaking to the bigoted gits here. I’m not saying we have to link hands and sing kumbaya with unrepentant bigots in order to achieve diversity. Rather the opposite is true. So, y’know, if you’re a bigoted git: don’t think I’m calling for tolerance and inclusion of you.