I finally got a chance to see the movie adaptation of this remarkable true story on Martin Luther King Day. It seemed fitting, since it’s another historical landmark for African Americans. However, this story is one that I was never taught in school.
There’s never been a lack of women in STEM fields — that’s Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math — but the prevailing assumption has been that women are either not as talented in those categories, or that their interests simply lie elsewhere. The fact that so many women of so many backgrounds have contributed so much to the technological advances we’ve seen over the centuries, but have rarely if ever gotten credit for it, is a tragedy that is only just starting to shift.
The focus of Hidden Figures is on three central characters: Katherine G. Johnson (played in the film by Taraji P. Henson), Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae), and Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer). These women, among others, were instrumental in America’s success in the space race of the 1960s. Johnson, a mathematical prodigy from a very young age, had such a talent for calculation that astronaut John Glenn personally asked for her expertise in checking the numbers for his first orbit around the Earth.
The other landmark this story captures is the special recognition of Johnson, who received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015, in addition to having one of NASA’s research buildings right here in Hampton Roads dedicated to her last year. This brilliant, moving, important film is now one of the nominees for Best Picture at the Academy Awards this year. See it in theaters if you can, and in the meantime, find the book that inspired it here.