Sunday, January 15, 2017

Hidden Figures - the movie

I don't often go to the theater to see a movie. I prefer to wait until they are available streaming or on DVD so I can watch them in my living room and enjoy reasonably priced snacks from my own kitchen and bathroom breaks whenever they are needed. Yesterday I made a rare exception and went to see Hidden Figures at the local cinema. This film based on the true story of African-American women who worked for NASA during the 1960s lives up to all the hype and was well worth the price of admission. I can also only assume that the racism and sexism we see in the film has a Hollywood sugar-coating and that it was much worse than what is portrayed in the film. 

One thing we don't see is any of the trailers for the film is a pivotal library scene. Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer) is thrown out of the public library for daring to look for a book in the "white" section when she realizes what she needs is not available in the "colored" area. Once she is back on the bus with her two sons she pulls out a library book on Fortran from under her coat. When one of her sons asks if she "took" it Vaughn explains that she pays taxes like everyone else, and that you can't "take" what you already paid for. She uses the book to secretly learn to program the new room-sized IBM mainframe computer that has recently arrived at NASA that will surely put her and many of her denizens out of a job. By learning the computer language she not changes her own destiny, but that of dozens of other women, both black and white, who work for the space program. This episode is one of many in the film that reminds us that what is legal is not necessarily right, and what is illegal is not necessarily wrong. Powerful lessons that are still relevant today.

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