Female Mathematicians in Hidden Figures Movie

Updated October 13, 2020

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Female Mathematicians in Hidden Figures Movie essay

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The event the movie covers occurs in 1963. Hidden Figures shows a journey of determined female mathematicians that calculated the number that would launch rockets into space. A laboratory in Hampton, VA wanted to hire junior physicist and mathematicians to help in the war effort. The Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory new hires aided in the war efforts by giving support to the engineers. They did aeronautical research as members of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautical.

During that time, the mathematicians or “computers” were mostly women. Amongst the newly hired were educated black women. The protagonist of the film is a black female mathematician who name is Katherine Coleman. Ms. Coleman later received a Noble Peace Prize for her work. Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson were other important females in NACA. Mary Jackson was the first African American female engineer. (Blitz 4) Dorothy Vaughan became NACA’s first black supervisor.

This is historically significant because during this time most black mathematicians were restricted to teaching math in segregated schools. Their services were needed due to the labor shortages caused by World War II.

The Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory hired the mentioned black female mathematician. At this time, Jim Crow laws were being practiced. The city of Hampton was segregated. The National Advisory Committee for Aeronautical made no exceptions. The blacks were separated in offices called the West Area. The women in the film were employees that worked in the West Area computing group. This made the accomplishment more significant considering many of the blacks’ coworkers did not see them as an equal contributor. The characters in the movie each did something that was not done before their time there.

The movie made a great effort in being historically correct. However, there were a few things altered or left out. For example, Katherine Johnson’s first big NASA assignment involved computing trajectories for Alan Shepard’s flight in 1961. (Blitz 4) The movie was inspired from a book written by Margot Lee Shetterly. The book is named Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race. The book gave more accurate details of the story of the women. (Blitz 3) For the most part, the movie is factually correct with added dramatic parts for the viewer.

Although her help was needed, John Glenn did request that Johnson specifically check and confirm trajectories and entry points that the IBM produced. I believe that part was added to play on the fact that Glenn did not completely trust the computer. (Loff 2) John Glenn was depicted younger than he was at the time the movie’s event took place. Katherine’s children were older than the age they were given in the movie.

Most of NASA staff in the movie were fictional characters. Despite what the movie depicts, Mary Jackson stood out during the time she worked for NASA. (Blitz 3) Mary Jackson was older than what she was shown as in the film. Mary Jackson was not just one of the first black women to become an engineer. (Loff 2) She was one of the first women overall to do so. Also, the scene where Kevin Costner’s character tears down the whites only bathroom sign never occurred in real life. The bathroom displayed on screen was more fitting of what Mary Jackson had endured not Katherine. These were a few differences.

So many people worked with the women in the film that is was hard to depict them all individual. Some characters represent members on the team. (Gary 3) Al Harrison, who is composite character, was among the main characters who were fictional. Al Harrison worked as the head of the space task group. His character is said to have personality from 3 men who worked at NASA during Johnson’s time there. (Gary 2) Vivian Mitchell character was another fictional character used to show the views and attitude of some of the white women at this time. Paul Stafford is another composite character. He plays the role of several engineers who worked with Katherine. There were other minor characters that were real and fictional.

The director’s main purpose in this movie is to tell an important story that many did not know about. He told the untold story of the women’s success. He wanted to shed light on women in NASA. He believed that their accomplishments deserved to be acknowledged because he was not even aware of the work these women did. He tried to incorporate humor because that is his style of filmmaking. He also added humor to soften the nature of the film and make it less triggering. His end goal of the film was to give the audience hope.

The director was inspired to tell the story because he couldn’t believe it was true. The message that was conveyed is that women have been an important part of history even before now. He did not believe women worked at NASA because of gender inequality and how sexiest people were during the time. During his research, he found that Katherine Johnson was the only one John Glenn trusted to run the numbers for his Friendship 7 launch. He knew that many others did not know this story, so he wanted to tell it himself. He also wanted to give a story about unity. Lastly, he is a family man who thought about his daughters and the value of giving the story justice.

I believe the acting is top tier. The film has powerful leading ladies. Taraji P Henson brought her character to life through her acting skills. She took on a more tranquil role than she has played in other showings. Even though this is the first film I saw with Janelle Monae, she did a great job playing the role. Hidden figures were one of her two theatrical film debuts during 2016. Octavia Spencer is a great actress, and she did a great job in this movie. The acting is what took the movie from good to great. All the supporting actors also did a great job at bringing the film to life. They went on to receive and be nominated for awards for their performance in the movie.

The special effect for the movie were well crafted. The person behind the graphic is named Chris LeDoux. (Frei 1) He was behind the take-offs and space shots. (Frei 2) They used Raw Red Footage for a reference. They also used this footage as elements for matte paintings. According to the visual effect technician, the takeoff shot was the most difficult shot to get. Fume, phoenix and Maya to capture effects such as fire, ocean, and smoke. (Frei 3) A challenge the visual effect tech faced is making the shot blend in with the rest of the movie.

Chris LeDoux recreated the Cape Canaveral launching pad and its environment. He also got a chance to recreate NASA headquarters in Langley. Overall, he did a good job in representing this movie.
I believe the most powerful part of the movie is the appropriate display of the strength of a black woman. During this time, women were not looked at as equal to man. This movie showcases intelligent women equally deserving the position they earned. This movie is another great example of the hidden success of women of all kinds. This movie set an encouraging tone for educated women. It also humbly reminds us of what had to be done before females got to a place of even slight equality.

The movie accurately described what it was like during that time. It went as far as capturing the racial issues occurring during that time. The event occurred during the Jim Crow Laws. Even though the movie was empowering, the racial issues were still discussed. I believe that it was important to include this. The race aspect is what makes the movie more impactful. So, the historical period was accurately depicted.
Overall, the movie is one of the best movies I’ve seen. It displayed a side of black women that we do not typically see on film. It showed the balance in vulnerability and intelligence that women have. It also was a great way to educate one on the historic space launch. It retold and enhanced a story already given in school. I appreciate the effort of the director to be as historically accurate as possible.

Female Mathematicians in Hidden Figures Movie essay

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Female Mathematicians in Hidden Figures Movie. (2020, Sep 11). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/hidden-figures-movie-review/


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