The challenge every biopic film has is mixing fact with Hollywood’s influence. A biopic film is based on actual events, recent or historical, which give depth to the story through interesting dialogue and sometimes sensationalism of these events. It is the filmmaker’s task to educate the audience, whether they were alive during the events or not, as well as entertain the audience. Otherwise, it feels more like a movie you watch in high school for your US or World History class. And if I can recall, those were certainly educational but not too entertaining.
I have watched a number of racially charged biopics over the years. Some of these movies have racial tones embedded in the movie but the main characters are not the ones being discriminated against. Others follow the life of a person or persons that, despite the odds, were able to overcome racism and make a positive difference in the lives of others. Admittedly, some of the dialogue is tough to bear due to the extremely disgusting way some human beings treated others, all because of race. These movies depict life in American before most of the modern conveniences and principles and social justices I have become accustomed to. The best movie I have seen to date that exemplifies this is Hidden Figures.
Hidden Figures is a biopic film about three extraordinary women – Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson, Dorothy Vaughn – who were employees of NASA during the 1960’s. The film’s title reveals part of the film’s theme. To expand on that thought, “hidden” refers to the segregation of NASA’s work environment which featured colored computer offices, colored bathrooms in only certain buildings on a massive campus, and a general sense of one race being superior to another. These three women, forever to be known as vital to the space program, were continually kept in the shadows of their white peers, unrecognized for their work, and discriminated against to an alarming degree. Their minds were far superior to their peers and their supervisors. It was their work – Mary, Dorothy, Katherine – that helped the United States become a world leader in the space program. And because they were women and black, they had to endure not only their daily responsibilities but also the extreme measures of sexism and racism which their employer cast on them.
Each woman in the story had the drive and personality to succeed. It was an interesting side story that, certainly in the beginning, even the men in their lives were not supportive or encouraging to an extent. Whether it was an oversight or snide remark or simply just a “You can’t do that, you are black” comment by the men in their lives, it added just another layer and barrier these incredible women had to overcome. These women – Mary, Katherine, and Dorothy – simply would not be denied. They fought supervisors for respect. They put up with racist policies and stares and disgusting comments. They even fought in court to overturn the segregated laws of Virginia, just to be allowed to take a class, to educate themselves so they could have a brighter future. And they achieved their success by looking within themselves and realizing how smart, important, gifted, and talented they were, no matter what society had told them otherwise.
I was proud as an American to watch the events of the film carry out with a positive result. Mary Jackson, Dorothy Vaughn, Katherine Johnson thank you for your dedication, for your tenacity, for your heart, and your courage to overcome so many obstacles. Your drive and spirit should be trumpeted in the history books and I congratulate the filmmakers who got this right. It was educational and entertaining and uplifting. I was saddened as an American that this type of discrimination prevented the talents and minds of these women and their co-workers from realizing their potential from the start of their employment. That our society was so mean and chose to put up so many roadblocks to success for another human being. It might be hard to swallow for some, that this type of racism existed in our lifetimes, but it did. And Hidden Figures did a phenomenal job of telling that story and the story of three women who not only hurdled roadblocks, they smashed them completely in their proud path to history.