By any standard of the box office, Hidden Figures has been an absolute smash since its opening. I’ve seen posts of celebrities buying out theaters for families unable to afford tickets and teachers already planning lessons for the book. Being that it’s a family friendly movie that isn’t animated, it was high priority for our mother/daughter date night. In fact, when she first saw previews for Hidden Figures she squealed (I hear that is pre-teen for excitement). I’m glad to say it lived up to her expectations, despite the twenty minute rant she heard on the way home.
Hidden Figures is about the true story of three African-American women: Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn, and Mary Jackson, how they worked as computers for the Langley Research Center, and their role in the space race of the 1960s in a segregated NASA. The movie was everything a movie should be, charismatic, funny, touching, and emotional. The characters were flawless and, I hope, a good portrayal of their counterparts in reality. It was a great film, and as much as I loved it, something about it didn’t sit right.
As I walked out of the theater, my heart was full and I was proud of what those women had achieved in their lives, pursuing their dreams, raising their families, and breaking down barriers. Their lives are worth being celebrated in a movie, but why hadn’t I learned about them before? Instantly I became angry. I was furious that I had never heard the names Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn, and Mary Jackson. I never even knew about the women computers, experts in math and physics, and their role in our Space Program (and I’m sure other important efforts as well). Honestly, beyond Madame Curie and Jane Goodall, I couldn’t name a famous woman scientist off the top of my head. I certainly couldn’t name a famous female engineer and definitely not a mathematician. These women were mothers with amazing careers, who made history! They were firsts! I didn’t even know their names, how could this be? Who are other hidden figures out there? Just thinking about it again makes me mad.
Despite all that, I am thankful that my daughter, and other girls, will grow up knowing and being inspired by their story. I am thrilled that they get to see women doing MATH on the big screen. I’m also thankful that sites like Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls and A Mighty Girl are sharing the previously unheard stories of those female firsts and fabulous, like Jeanette Epps, who became the first African-American crew member of the International Space Station earlier this month. Most importantly, I am thankful that I was introduced to and inspired by three female power house moms, who loved their work, their families, and didn’t take no for an answer. I’m just angry it’s taken so long.