The Hidden Figures movie has been getting a lot of critical acclaim since its release. The movie follows three main characters, Dorothy Vaughn, Katherine Johnson and Mary Jackson on their journey as colored human computers for NASA. The movie shed light on the mistreatment of these women and the barriers they overcame to become HUGE contributors to the first human space mission in the U.S. and NASA as a whole.
My diversity STEM student group organized an event around the movie and it gave me my entire life! About 50 total students and faculty, majority black, many identifying as female, filled the theatre reserved specifically for the event and preceded to be both inspired and enraged by the events being portrayed on the screen. The experience was cathartic. The proverbial side eye that was given when we all realized that Katherine had to run back to West Computing to use the bathroom or when they added an addition coffee carafe labeled colored after she drank from the at first communal carafe was on full display in that theatre. The group applauded when Katherine broke down and yelled at Mr. Harrison when he asked where she went for hours at a time every day and when Dorothy told Vivian Mitchel “ I know you, think, you do.” After she said she didn’t have anything against the colored computers. It was like instant validation knowing that an entire group of people felt the same way you do. It helped me to remember I am not alone in my experiences even though I feel like it most days.
As a female STEM scientist I identified so much with the struggles that these women went through in this movie. Though segregation officially ended decades ago and the barriers for black women and other underrepresented minorities are no longer legal they still exist. The feelings of being other are still quite pervasive in science technology and math as well having to prove your intelligence and your value to the scientific community ten times over. In fact, this movie came right on time. For about a month before the movie came out until I saw the movie, I was debating leaving science myself. I was feeling down and discouraged about my future, my current status as a PhD candidate and questioning whether I am ever going to graduate.
The movie also inspired to me to look for the hidden figures in my own field. I realized that I had not come into to contact with one black female virologist let alone an arbovirologist and made me seek to change this. I reached out to folks on twitter and am on my way to getting to know the research of several women recommended to me. I am also in the process of reading the book that inspired the movie to get all the extra details, find more inspiration and separate the truth from the fiction in that movie. For example: The entire timeline was compressed. The actual story starts in the late 1940’s Mr. Harrison, was not Katherine’s actual supervisor and no one tore down the colored bathroom sign. Katherine just started using the closest bathroom.
So if you haven’y already seen this movie, go now! I plan on buying the Blue Ray so I can watch it again and again. Also, I challenge you to look for some hidden figures in your field. When you find them, if you care to share, please do so in the comments.