Most of us know the name John Glenn. His accomplishments as an American aviator, engineer, astronaut, and Senator from Ohio are all perfectly displayed in the history books we all were forced to read in school. We know that he was the first American to Orbit the Earth, circling it three times before landing back down safely just outside of Cape Canaveral.
We know that he did not get there alone, but through the help and lens of many talented, brilliant minds at NASA in the early 1960s. But, what our history books failed to focus on, or even mention, were some of the Black women who helped launch his White, brave ass into orbit. That’s what the dramedy Hidden Figures beautifully educates us all on.
A month after John Glenn died in Ohio, the film that focuses on his departure from earth’s gravitational pull raked in $22.8 million in the box office leaving Rogue One: A Star Wars Story behind it like one of the Friendship 7’s fuel booster. An impressive feat for a historical drama focusing on the determination, intelligence, and dramatized lives of three black women.
Hidden figures is based on Margot Lee Shetterly’s nonfiction book of the same title, the film, directed by Theodore Melfi. Taraji P Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe star as our boffins: Henson is Katherine Johnson, a brilliant “computer” (now 98 years old) promoted to a role in the Space Task Group that was responsible for sending Glenn into orbit.
Spencer is Dorothy Vaughan, who supervises a team over at the West Computing Building, but is denied the title and pay packet to match by condescending colleague Kirsten Dunst.
Monáe, meanwhile, is Mary Jackson, who must lobby a local judge to allow her access to a local segregated school so she can take night classes that will enable her to train as Nasa’s first female black engineer.
Themes like racism, sexism, female empowerment, and workplace equality all emerge during the movie and show us that while some things have changed, such as segregated bathrooms, society is still struggling in all these categories. Perhaps the comparisons are what make this movie so riveting.
It’s a feel good movie, that had the theater laughing, crying, cringing, and cheering at some points. The acting was terrific, and we’ll be surprised if it doesn’t make it into the #OSCARSSOWHITE list a few times. It may be a movie about NASA, but the performances, light-heartedness, and cultural relevance make this a movie that will entertain a wider audience than space enthusiasts.