The hidden story behind Hidden Figures


It is not everyday that a major motion picture is lead by women, let alone three women of color. The movie, Hidden Figures, based off the book of the same name, officially opened in theaters on January 6. To the surprise of many, Hidden Figures topped Rouge One in the box office its first week.

The movie follows a group of three African-American women, Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe), who work at NASA’s Langley campus in southern Virginia. The movie opens with a flashback of Johnson as a child in West Virginia and her family being advised to allow her to jump multiple grades due to her talent in math. The remainder of the movie takes place in the West Area Computing division, separated from the rest of the Langley Research Center, where the minority women computers worked on multiple projects during the 1960s space race.

The three women has different roles, not only in their friend group, but within the West Computing division and the rest of campus. Jackson is given the opportunity to work in the engineering department, Vaughan takes the role of supervisor in the West campus and Johnson works on the math on the mission to get John Glenn into orbit. Not surprisingly, all three women encounter backlash not only because they are black, but also because they are women in a predominantly male field. Even under large scrutiny, these women are still able to push through and are able to work in their respective fields, although still with backlash.

The biggest moment that stood out to me in the movie was when Vaughan was finally given the opportunity to work on the IBM computer, but with the exception that all of the women in her department come with her. As a young black woman, the scene that followed gave me goosebumps; Vaughan walking down the Langley campus’ west campus hallway with at least a dozen of black girls behind her to work on the new IBM machine. I would be lying to say that I didn’t get goosebumps. All in all, Hidden Figures is a movie definitely worth the watch, showing old and young folk alike that in the face of hardship comes resilience. Henson said it best during the Screen Actors Guild Awards, “[Vaughan, Jackson and Johnson] are hidden figures no more.”