As an aspiring producer, I find myself struggling with the role of ethics in my field. And as much as I love thinking about it, I don't get to discuss it very often. Most of my conversations lie in the technical aspects of film making. Don't get me wrong. I've cried in awe of lighting and sound design. But sometimes I wonder about the ethical responsibility as a creator. Then I had the great pleasure of watching Hidden Figures. This is the type of movie we need to be making: strong female leads, diversity, intelligent characters, a witty and relatable story, beautiful music. The list goes on. For those who may not know- and I don't know how you've accomplished not hearing about it- Hidden Figures is a movie about three black female NASA mathematicians during the race to get a man into space.
The first and obvious praise is how well this movie handles racism. As a white person, I am very lucky that my skin color doesn't influence people. But I know it does. I've seen it and I've listened to it. As someone who is white, I felt this movie did a great job at explaining the role of racism. At no point was the subject handled with white gloves. It was real, both in your face and subtle, just like real life. From separate coffee pots and bathrooms to simple promotions and job hierarchy. Not everyone who started the movie with a racial bias ended up realizing their prejudice. The movie specifically addresses that some racist people don't believe that they are (If there was any doubt about my love for Octavia Spencer, it disappeared with that scene). With race being an important political topic, this was a great way to bridge conversations between different groups. As I was watching this, the theatre was mostly white. And there were gasps of outrage over every act of racism. It made racism more understandable to an audience who had never experienced that. I loved that they cast Jim Parsons and Kristen Dunst as two racist people. Audiences love both of them, so it felt even worse to the audience when both got in the way of the success of our heroines. Racism was more than the stereotypes. It wasn't just slavery. It wasn't just segregation. It was every day life.
My second favorite feature is that it was a math movie. With women. Growing up, I never considered STEM careers. I was always taught to think about things like ballerina or teacher. I loved science, but I never thought I could have that career. This movie not only praises a strong mathematical mind, it praises women in the STEM field. I was lucky enough to be taught about women's additions to different fields (Don't even get me started on Rosalind Franklin), but I can't remember being taught about a single female mathematician. The whole movie celebrated STEM. Engineering, mathematics, computer programming. The most pivotal scene was Taraji P. Henson's character being better than the computer and more reliable than her peers. These women weren't stereotypical nerds. All three were funny, beautiful, strong women. It was the woman who got the handsome man. It was the woman breaking boundaries legally. It praised people who liked math and science. It praised women as innovators and engineers. Little girls can point to real women who did this as inspiration for their careers. It opens new possibilities across the board.
Film makers praise innovation in technical fields. Last year I heard non-stop about how The Revenant's filming was so intense that several crew members almost died of hypothermia. While that movie was gorgeous, there was a lot of unnecessary risk and overall that risk didn't have a lot of impact. I would love to see a surge in celebration for boundary pushing content. Hidden Figures did that on multiple levels. Inspiring a new generation to have STEM interests opens a whole new world of innovation and discovery. Discussing racism and women's rights in this format helps build empathy in less diverse communities.
Movies like this make a difference for a lot of people. I can only hope that Hollywood sees the success of this film and realizes that pushing the boundaries in content is just as important as developing technical skill. As for myself, I'm looking for an excuse to watch it again.