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Theodore Melfi Film Hidden Figures

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Theodore Melfi’s historical drama film, Hidden Figures hit the big screen in 2016, emphasizing the importance of gender and racial equality back in the 1960s and impacted the modern audience who viewed it. The movie is based on Margot Lee Shetterly’s book, Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race written in 2016. Three little-known African American women’s stories are followed throughout the film, each revealing how influential their hard work was despite the prejudgedice they faced at NASA. Upon researching the gender inequality in Hidden Figures, my intent was to find exactly how much credit was given to this film when presenting how different it was being a woman in the 1960s and having to face discrimination throughout their journeys. Although, these NASA computers were not hitting the news back forty years ago, the impact they had makes the viewers wish that this movie’s message was not so unknown to the contemporary world. Rotten Tomatoes, a film rating website gives Hidden Figures an asstounding 93% approval on the “Tomatometer”. Film critics have both positive and negative reviews of the film based on accuracy and the overall message.


Theodore Melfi is the film director of Hidden Figures. The screenwriter is Allison Shroeder. The entire movie and screenplay is based on the non-fiction, Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race written by Margot Lee Shetterly. The movie was produced by Donna Gigliotti, Peter Chernin, Jenno Topping, Pharrell Williams, and Theodore Melfi. The main three protagonist are played by Janelle Monáe, Taraji P. Henson, and Octavia Spencer. Twentieth Century Fox categorizes the genre of the film as a “drama”, the women mathematicians as “brilliant”, the women’s hard work as “stunning”, and the accomplishment of the protagonists as surpassing “all gender and racial line[s]”. No harsh judgement of the film is portrayed in the short synopsis that Twentieth Century Fox depicts. As an American film corporation owning a film about an historical American triumph it is unlikely that a negative standpoint would be revealed.

Positives of the Depiction: Defiance

Reviews of the film reveal that the positives of the story’s depiction derive from its ability to convey how these three African American women had an overall effective message of breaking racial and gender equality’s barriers back in 1961. James I. Deutsch, author of the Journal of American History, edited by Thomas Doherty, writes about Hidden Figures with a focus on the achievements of the three women protagonists. Deutsch writes about the title of the film itself and how “clever” the title is to prove its point that these important characters skills and accomplishments were “largely hidden from history”. Deutsch goes on saying that the film was “inspiring” in that these women “courageously overcame tremendous racial and gender barriers to achieve proper recognition for their talents”. Deutsch uses praising words such as “clever” and “inspiring” to move a potential reader into seeing the positive aspects of this film depiction. Deutsch zooms in on how each of the three protagonists overcome these barriers in ways that would have been unexpected during the time of the racist Jim Crow laws in the United States. Mary Winston Jackson wants to take graduate classes, but can not, because of whites-only restriction, take classes in the preferred classrooms.

Deutsch summarizes Jackson’s feat as an act of “convinc[ing] a sympathetic judge” to let her take the classes in the same classroom as the other white scholars. Next, Deutsch uses the adverb “forcefully” to describe the manner in which Katherine Goble Johnson, another protagonist, attempts to plead her case for why she has to use a bathroom located forty minutes away just because she is black. The use of this particular word is used to lead the reader into understanding the racist and sexist fight in which these women had to defend their rights during. Last, Deutsch writes that Dorothy Johnson Vaughan “stuns her white supervisor by refusing reassignment” to another position unless her team of African Americans female computers joins her. The verb “stuns” correlates to feeling shock of defying the odds of a black person back in 1961 where their authority was at a disadvantage. Deutsch wants readers to know that these women were being judged by their race and not by their character. The actions of these women are portrayed positively in this review to highlight the accomplishments they made on American history in space.

Positives of the Depiction: Propaganda

Another review that shows the positives of the depiction of the historical space race, focused on the fact that Hidden Figures spreads an overarching message that racial and gender equality is important. A.O. Scott of the New York Times Magazine writes in the article titled: “Review: ‘Hidden Figures’ Honors 3 Black Women Who Helped NASA Soar” about the effects that the film depiction will have on the audience. Scott summarizes the plot as “a rousing celebration of merit rewarded and perseverance repaid” in other words achieving what was well-deserved for these three women protagonists. These women had the “merit” of being human computers who computed many calculations daily, providing the math for NASA. Described as “a rousing celebration”, not just any regular commencement of festivity, the entirety of the film’s plot glorifies women success stories in history. Not only does these women’s glory shine, the audience’s heartstrings are “rous[ed]” when in the end their “perseverance [was] repaid” where in the current time gender equality is being warmly embraced by those who seek it for the United States still. Scott highlights in the article that the film “effectively conveys the poisonous normalcy of white supremacy”.

Scott makes it clear that white supremacy was in fact “poisonous” in that it infected the United States back then in a time when black people had minimal rights against white people. In general Scott points out that a film like Hidden Figures is powerful in that it shows how “the quiet dramas move history forward” and affect the audience in such a way that “fill[s] you with outrage at the persistence of injustice and gratitude toward those who had the grit to stand up against it”. The overall message of the film, according to Scott, is a purposeful wake-up call to the viewers of Hidden Figures to celebrate the small victories that the world should have known earlier. Hidden Figures in the words of Scott is a “well-told tale”, a “clear moral” with a “satisfying emotional pay off”. Drawn to conclusion from Scott’s words, Hidden Figures is “emotional” propaganda to move the audience and continue to accept gender and racial equality because it important to the progressive society in our modern world.

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