Movie Review: Hidden Figures

Hidden Figures is a lot like some of the other mathematician / scientist stories we’ve seen in the past few years, like The Imitation Game or the NASA parts of The Martian: it follows the story of a mathematician, an engineer, and a technical supervisor at NASA. We get to see their personal and professional lives as the US tries to catch up to Russia in the Space Race of the 1960s, all three of them ultimately playing pivotal roles.

Of course, Johnson, Jackson, and Vaughn are also all black women, and so we get to see how again and again they are passed over for promotion, condescended to, dismissed—and that they succeed despite this. Representation matters, and doubly so when it’s a true story.

Hidden Figures was pretty much exactly what I expected, and it was good. If you like these kinds of movies—dramatized versions of historical technological achievements—you’ll like Hidden Figures. And if you like seeing black women being awesome in their fields despite it all, you’ll like Hidden Figures.

The thing I’m a little worried about is that people will think this is done, over, fixed. And it’s not. I work in software, and stories like those found at AlterConf show that people are still passed over, condescended to, dismissed for being non-white or non-male. We don’t have racially-segregated bathrooms or workspaces or coffee pots, but we still have both anecdotal and broad-scale evidence of bias. We still have pay gaps. We have unpaid diversity work.1

We still have people who leave software because of the constant extra level of BS they receive. And the industry is worse for it. I can’t speak for other fields, of course, but I suspect software isn’t the only one with these problems.

(And that’s without saying anything about other groups that are now more prominently struggling for equality, including one in particular that still has to deal with bathrooms in government facilities.)

  • Col. Johnson didn’t win me over after his opening remarks.
  • I wonder if Glenn was really that good of a guy.
  • But I loved the punchline in the opening car scene.

See also: History vs. Hollywood’s report

  1. This thought isn’t entirely original; I remember seeing the idea expressed before I saw the movie. ↩︎