Saturday, January 7, 2017

Unprepared For a Vital Lesson

Black History Month and Women’s History Month came early this year. It was completely unexpected. I was ill-prepared, and launched into space via the new film Hidden FiguresThis movie gave me an early present in the form of a history lesson I didn’t know I needed, as I watched the story of three African American women who worked for NASA. at the Langley campus in Virginia and helped launch America into space. 

Admittedly, I’d become a little irritated with films about Africans/African Americans Hollywood has created and pushed into mainstream for the past few years. Of course, it’s great for the seasoned black actors and the rising stars. But I wondered ‘how many times does the story of the fight for civil rights need to be told? How many ways does it need to be presented in film to prove that black history is American history? Is all this hoopla surrounding black films really necessary?' Enough is enough already.  

In addition to those feelings, I’m still frightened of the movie Apollo 13- a movie I saw when I was way too young. I remember my heart pounding through the entire film as it was too suspenseful for my nerves. I’d since turned a cold shoulder to movies about outer space. 

Hidden Figures, however, removed my growing dismay toward black films, and I settled comfortably into the film’s setting at NASA. This movie is about much more than astronauts and rocket ships. It’s about education. Hidden Figures makes being educated extremely appealing. It makes having a brilliant mind- and not being afraid to use it- attractive. 

In a selfie-obsessed world where young people run to take the perfect picture in the bathroom mirror, Hidden Figures shows the opposite. For those women running (sometimes literally) to the Colored bathrooms at NASA to relieve themselves also meant putting brains over boys, and it was their brains that made them truly beautiful. Even in bathroom stalls they calculated numbers, looked beyond the obvious math problems, and vied for positions and pay they knew they deserved. These women were the first of their kind as Mathematicians, Engineers, Supervisors, and Influencers on the operations and success of NASA. The film gives just enough details about their personal lives, including their husbands who loved them and were attracted to their wit, perseverance, and intelligence. 

Considering that my alma mater unveiled its upgraded Science Building last year, it was perfect timing that the University offered pre-screening passes to Hidden Figures, and a special program highlighting the S.T.E.M. field. I brought my dad as my date, and I felt a sense of pride, and a deeper respect for education after seeing the movie. Having degrees and letters associated with one’s name is only for prestigious purposes. Rather, the goal is to never stop learning (which is something my dad has taught me) and to be unapologetically smart like Dorothy Vaughn, Mary Jackson, and Katherine Johnson, whose names are no longer hidden. Leah Johnson