Yesterday, I went to the movies with my mom. I’ve wanted to see Hidden Figures for awhile now and she seemed like the perfect person to see it with. She’s 62, so she has some memory of the era that the movie takes place in and even more so she’s become very mindful of social inequalities over the last couple of years. The movie was good, cinematically, but even more so it was a good jump off point for the conversations that came after the movie. I probably don’t even need to point out that there’ll be some mild spoilers after this point, right? Right.
One thing that struck me as we watched it was how much it reminded me of A League of Their Own, not so much in content but at least superficially in theme. I’m a white Scandinavian so I’m not even going to pretend I have the first clue what kind of struggles a black woman in the US has to face on a day to day basis, but there was still a connection on the aspect of being a woman. The micro-aggressions coming from both camps (black men can be misogynist too), Katherine not being allowed to put her name on her own work, the perpetual pattern of labor intensive work for little pay being a woman’s world until it’s automated and thus pays better, so a man can swoop in and take over the market. It’s a threat in the movie and it’s a recurring event in history (the fabric industry is a great example) as well as our own times.
Female friendship and solidarity is also a strong theme in this movie, with one exception that seemed very fitting. I was worried that Kirsten Dunst’s character would be easily forgiven as some sort of token of global sisterhood, the kind white feminism so often subscribes to rather than a more intersectional standpoint. I was nearly holding my breath, bracing for disappointment and then came the perfect exchange:
Vivian Mitchell: Despite what you may think, I have nothing against y’all.
Dorothy Vaughan: I know, I know you probably believe that.
Hidden Figures was not the best movie I’ve seen in my life, but it was a movie I know I’ll go back to time and time again because it gave me something important. Although there are some issues I’m unsure about (and others are more equipped to analyse) it carried a very powerful message in a very simple way, showing not telling what it was like to be a black woman in 1960’s America and how so much of that still resonates with women today, especially black women. Men will take credit for the work of women, who in turn will be forgotten by the writers of history. Women’s work will be valued only when there’s no alternative – women’s baseball is only profitable when the men are away, women mathematicians are only acceptable as cheap work force until a man invents a computer. It’s a depressing thing to think about, but I thought Hidden Figures handled it in a way that left me hopeful rather than downtrodden. We’re the underdog. We got this.