I’ll never forget sitting in a sociology class in university as an entitled middle class American white boy from a conservative Christian background who also happens to be a Millennial. There was a lot I didn’t know about the world. Something my professor said to me in that class stuck with me,
“A lot of us start life on third base and feel like we’ve hit a homerun. We look back at the people still in the dug out and wonder why they can’t do the same thing.”
This is part of the reason why I love story and why I love film. I don’t know what life is like for anyone except myself really, and story can help me understand what it’s like to be someone else.
It was this greater awareness that I was really looking for when I sat down in the cinema to watch Hidden Figures, and thankfully that’s exactly what I got.
Beyond the great filmmaking that’s on display here, beyond the stellar performances from the entire cast, it’s truly the story that shines. Set to the backdrop of the space race and a time in America when we believed that anything was possible, three African-American women decided that applied to them as well.
They refused to be kept in a box that society put them in and did something about it.
While the film has obviously embellished on elements of the true story for dramatic effect (the real Katherine Johnson has stated that her coworkers were very respectful and treated her like a peer), the power of the story still stands.
Yes this is a film about women’s rights and the rights of African-American’s, but it’s ultimately about the American Dream and that hard work and tenacity are still crucial ingredients to become the people we all want to be, no matter where we come from or what obstacles are set before us.
What remains incredible about this story is that no one had ever heard of these women before. It would be easy to say that it’s because they’re women and African-American, which I’m sure is a factor, however it’s probably mostly because what they did wasn’t sexy. They weren’t meeting with the press or actually in outer space like John Glenn. They’re merely a crucial part of the support structure that made an important moment in American history possible.
This is what I love most about this movie; it doesn’t glorify the people who do what’s sexy or trendy, it glorifies people who work hard, are kind and respectful to those around them, and are willing to stand up for themselves when it comes down to it.
There are “hidden figures” all around us; people who make history not because of their public platform, but their everyday life.
I was on an online forum and got into an argument with someone (always a great experience for everyone involved). He wanted the government to change their legislation on a particular issue, and I told him that was stupid. My argument was that you can change a law, but that’s not going to change culture. If you want to make a real change, you need to change the hearts of everyday people.
I think this quote from Margot Lee Shetterly the author of the book Hidden Figures (which the film was based on) sums it up perfectly:
“History is the sum total of what all of us do on a daily basis. We think of capital “H” history as being these huge figures—George Washington, Alexander Hamilton and Martin Luther King…you go to bed at night, you wake up the next morning, and then yesterday is history. These small actions in some ways are more important or certainly as important as the individual actions by these towering figures.”
I loved watching this film in a cinema. I love that a film with three female African-American leads can be made. I love that everyone in the cinema felt free to laugh at how small-minded people were at the time.
It helps me believe we’ve come a long way as a culture.
As the credits rolled and the applause flooded in from the audience, I couldn’t help but wonder what 60 years from now our children and grandchildren will be sitting in a cinema laughing about, and what side of history each one of us will find ourselves on.