Hidden Figures, based on Margot Lee Shetterly's non-fiction book, has grossed more than $145 million at the box office, becoming this year's highest-grossing Best Picture nominee. Starring Taraji P. Henson, Janelle Monae and Oscar-nominated Octavia Spencer, the film tells the story of three Black NASA workers in segregated Hampton, Virginia in the early 1960s.
Given the success of a film featuring three black females in leading roles, some might think it would be a small step toward progress in both Hollywood and society. However, Hidden Figures could be perceived as whitewashed. When “Al Harrison” (Kevin Costner) discovers “Katherine Johnson” (Henson) goes out of her way (in the pouring rain) to use the “colored” washroom, he tears the sign down, saying, “Here at NASA, we all pee the same color.”
According to Shetterly's book, this never happened. Katherine Johnson simply went into the washroom for white people. So, why did she need to be rescued by a white man, or any man, if it really didn’t happen? Director Theodore Melfi said, “There needs to be white people who do the right thing, there needs to be black people who do the right thing. And someone does the right thing. So, who cares who does the right thing as long as the right thing is achieved?”
Some do care, because it’s a lie. There’s another fictional scene where Katherine had to do some last-minute calculations before lift-off but isn’t let into Mission Control until Al invites her in. Although she had to do last minute work, she wasn’t allowed into Mission Control. Instead, she watched it on TV in the office. Why add a White-in-Shining Armor (no, that’s not a typo) if these people never existed?
One of the best scenes is when the astronaut John Glenn goes into space and everyone is worried for his safe return. Both black and white are gathered in the streets together with looks of concern, proving that during certain situations everyone can come together. This is a vast contrast from earlier when the NASA employees were segregated as they met the astronauts. Nevertheless, Hidden Figures is an inspirational movie about three women who accomplished many challenges that racism threw at them. It's a story about defying the odds. Katherine Goble Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson certainly did.
© Stephanie A. Taylor (02/23/17) FF2 Media
Top Photo: Taraji P. Henson as "Katherine Johnson" in Hidden Figures
Bottom Photo: Kevin Costner as NASA leader "Al Harrison"
Photo Credits: Fox Studios