WARNING! MAJOR SPOILER ALERT!
And it’s not just because the starring cast members (Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janae Monáe) are all shining examples of melanin cinema magic; it’s also the values it teaches.
Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson were up against unimaginable odds that we as the average millennial woman can understand but never imagine. The women worked for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics or NACA which the predecessor agency to what we known as NASA. And not only were they women, which already comes with its own set of problems (i.e. unequal pay), but they were black women. And they were black and intelligent women. It’s a concoction in a woman the early civil-rights era wasn’t quite ready to see. We observe the spirit in Monáe’s character, aerospace engineer, Mary Jackson. She is a bold, forward-thinking young woman who embodies the progressive spirit of young black people during the late 50s and early 60s that would eventually lead the way to the black power movement of the 70s. They faced adversity and the obvious prejudice that comes with that time-period; from separate coffee dispensers to running across an entire campus just to use the ‘colored’ restroom. As African-American women working in corporate or a professional field today, the trials we face at the office are not as color-coded; nevertheless, we still have tribulations. And it could be easy to throw up our hands and give into those forces that look to bring us down. Thank goodness, Johnson, Vaughan and Jackson didn’t take the easy way out or else America probably wouldn’t have never had a man successfully orbit the earth for another decade! Ok maybe not that long, but you get the point. Sometimes, giving up on something can be bigger than you.
It’s just like grandma says. If you just have faith the size of a mustard seed. Everyone told these women that it couldn’t be done, they couldn’t do it, it’s impossible. But unknowingly to these critics, their doubts were just being used as fuel to something we’re divinely blessed with and that’s faith. For example, Taraji’s character, famed mathematician, Katherine Johnson never lost faith that she could calculate those numbers correctly to make sure astronaut John Glenn can orbit around the earth and get back to do it safely. Many times, she was tested by her fellow co-workers (who were all white), one in particular, who would purposely ink out certain lines for her not to calculate. But over time, Johnson proved she had what it took to take a seat at the debriefing table with the big boys by calculating the trajectory the first American in space, Alan Shepard. And later, rechecking the calculations made by brand new electronic computers at the time, for John Glenn’s orbit mission around the earth. In other words, she let her work speak for herself. What we can learn from Johnson is that it’s OK if the world doesn’t believe in your vision, as long as you don’t stop believing in yourself. Not believing in yourself can be as detrimental as not trying in the first place. Don’t give up on yourself, no matter how hard it gets.
It’s OK if the world doesn’t believe in your vision, as long as you don’t stop believing in yourself.
The movie depicts Johnson, Vaughn and Jackson as very, good friends who no doubt met while working at NASA. And they did what any good girlfriend would for another going through tough times and that’s be there for them. When women come together and support one another in love, it’s a powerful thing. Too many times we can find ourselves bickering and competing against each other. But in the end the only person you’re hurting is yourself. There’s no limited space in success. Oprah doesn’t try to step over Beyonce and Beyonce doesn’t try to take down Oprah. When Jackson found out she would need to take additional classes to become a certified NASA engineer, her husband, who should have been her biggest fan, was not. At first, he did not support her endeavors because he didn’t believe women should be engineers. He also feared for her safety after hearing about how blacks were being killed and harassed for what he called a “civil rights movement that wasn’t so civil.” Also, the classes she needed were provided at a segregated white high school. It was Johnson and Vaughan (and another colleague of hers, Polish-Jewish engineer, Kazimierz Czarnecki, whose parents had died in a Nazi concentration camp) who banded around Jackson and motivated her to take her cause all the way to the top. Johnson ended up getting special permission from the City of Hampton to attend the all-white Hampton High School. She completed her courses and in 1958 became the first black woman engineer for NASA. And her venture all started with support. Motivating other women to see their full potential, even at times when it’s hard to see out own. The only competition you should be worried about is the person starring right back at you in the mirror. How can you make that woman better than she was yesterday?
Class & Pride
If you do not feel nothing else after watching Hidden Figures, you should feel empowered. Octavia Spencer plays
Dorothy Vaughan. She is the oldest, most maternal of the group and in our opinion the most tested. Like Johnson, Vaughan is another brilliant mathematician who worked at NACA. She was talented, resourceful and respected by mostly everyone except the one she worked over. Many times, Vaughan found herself taking on supervisor duties but she was not receiving supervisor pay. Her boss, played by actress Kirsten Dunst, saw to that. But despite odds against her, Vaughan is constantly seen with her head held high and with dignity. When her boss asked her to do something (that a supervisor would) she did with it and with a smile on her face. In the end, it’s easy to say that Vaughan killed them with kindness. Because in the end she did get that supervisory promotion and became the first black woman to be promoted as a head of personnel at NACA. Vaughan and these other women achieved what they wanted; not be throwing a fit and feeling into that ‘angry black woman stereotype’ others like to associate us with. Nor did they get to the top by stepping on the next person down. They showed us that although good looks are a plus, brains and ambition can carry us further than beauty ever could. Now that’s class.
These are but a few lessons as Royal Women from learning the true stories of these phenomenal women, But don’t just take our word for it. Watch the movie and tell us what lessons you took away.
A working journalist, entrepreneur and founder of RoyalTee Enterprises. Born and raised in Tampa, Fla. The vision of RoyalTee was inspired in 2015 by Alexia’s ambitions to return to her passion for creative writing and publishing and create a platform to showcase the excellence of minority women across the country through professional, personal and social ventures.