Theodore Melfi has adapted to the cinema the story of three African-American women who played a vital role during the space race. When it is better to see how absurd the discrimination of a society against a group is at the moment, always crucial, in which it prevents the really qualified people who make it up contribute to the progress or to the achievement of a very important objective in any field. This is what the film Hidden Figures (Theodore Melfi, 2016) tells us about three African-American women who worked at NASA’s Langley Research Center and were essential to the success of the Mercury Program (1961-1963 ), With which the United States intended to put astronaut John Glenn in orbit around the globe, in the context of the space race of the Cold War.
When it is better to see how absurd the discrimination of a society against a group is at the moment, always crucial, in which it prevents the really qualified people who make it up contribute to the progress or to the achievement of a very important objective in any field. This is what the film Hidden Figures (Theodore Melfi, 2016) tells us about three African-American women who worked at NASA’s Langley Research Center and were essential to the success of the Mercury Program (1961-1963 ), With which the United States intended to put astronaut John Glenn in orbit around the globe, in the context of the space race of the Cold War.
The great contribution of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson
If in May 2016 they named it Katherine G. Johnson to the new computer facilities at the Langley Research Center that NASA built in Virginia’s Virginia resort, it was not for nothing. In the summer of 1918, Johnson was fortunate to be born into a family, the Coleman White Sulfur Springs family, who valued the education of their children above all else; Not in vain, her mother was a teacher; So he had the opportunity to unleash his skills for the study of mathematics.
So that she and her siblings could continue their schooling, they moved to the Institute during each course, because in West Virginia’s Greenbier County, to which White Sulfur Springs belonged, they did not offer high school for African-Americans. At age fifteen, she enrolled at West Virginia State University to learn as much as she could about math, pushing even a teacher to create specific subjects for her, and in 1937, when she was of age, she graduated with summa cum laude . Then, in 1938, she was the first African-American woman to pursue post-graduate studies at the University of West Virginia, located in Morgantown, where she ended the vexing segregation.
Morgantown moved the family of Dorothy Vaughan, born in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1910, to continue her secondary education. Later, thanks to a scholarship and his own decisive effort, he graduated in mathematics at age nineteen at Wilberforce University, Ohio, in 1929, an institution attended only by African Americans; And rejected postgraduate studies at Howard University in Washington City to help her family during the Great Depression by working as a teacher, as did Johnson and Mary Jackson. And it was not until 1943 when she began her math career and later a programmer at the Langley Research Center of what NASA would be a few years later, which Jackson came in 1951 and Johnson in 1953 under her supervision in calculations Of flight paths.
Hampton was Jackson’s hometown, who had come to the world in 1921, so his assignment to the Department of Guidance and Navigation did not result in a move like the other two. He graduated in mathematics and physical sciences at the Hampton Institute in 1942, and after several jobs, was integrated into the area of segregated calculations, which Vaughan supervised as a pioneer since 1949 without charge and corresponding remuneration for several years. In 1953 Jackson joined the team of engineer Kazimierz Czarnecki to study the effect of winds that almost double the speed of sound on the devices in the Supersonic Pressure Tunnel and his boss encouraged her to continue her training to become an aerospace engineer , Something that achieved in 1958 after dealing with the racial segregation in the educative centers of the same Hampton.
Thus, Jackson was the first African American woman engineer of the whole NASA, where it worked in diverse sections. She was awarded more than a dozen awards and recognitions for her work and was able to help other women to study and to ascend as she. Vaughan, her friend and supervisor for a time, prepared her colleagues for the transition from the complex calculations they made by hand to the programming and use of electronic computers, the division of which was then part of it. Johnson was short on them because he was soon reassigned, and so calculated the trajectory of the first manned space flight by an American, Alan Shepard, in 1959 or the launch window, the optimal dates for it, of the Mercury Program in 1961.
It was necessary to verify the calculations of Glenn’s orbit aboard the Friendship 7 in February 1962, executed by computers, Which she would later use herself. He also took charge of the flight path calculations for the Apollo 11 moon in July 1969, and the back-up instructions and navigation charts for the failed Apollo 13 to return to Earth in April 1973 were also his own. And in addition to having published 26 scientific articles in her field, she has been awarded multiple prizes, such as the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015, and was included last year in the BBC’s list of the 100 most influential women world. Do not tell me, then, that Johnson did not deserve his name in a building at NASA’s Langley Research Center, which opened in 2009 for the 55th anniversary of Alan Shepard’s flight.
‘Hidden Figures’, a new movie needed
If we needed to tell us the story of the Loving marriage and the way they put down one of the props of racism in the United States, just as well we get a movie like Hidden Figures, about these three great African American women who managed to highlight In her NASA work despite the racial segregation that theoretically ended there in 1958, and in the middle of a time shaken by the just fight against it by civilian pro-civil rights activists. This is the third feature by New Yorker Theodore Melfi after the unreleased Winding Roads (1999) and the delightful comedy St. Vincent (2014), and coincides with the first to be a drama starring three other women who face their own troubles , And with the second, in the good roll that it puts in the body to the spectators.
There is no doubt that Melfi has not yet stood out as a filmmaker, if he ever manages to stand out; And on this occasion has given us the typical movie that seduces the Hollywood Academy because, first, his bill is irreproachable, and second, that of his heroines is the story of overcoming all Yankee life, seasoned with an outrageous oppressive age For them and with a gentle tone that never bother the public, showing in passing how one of the great technological milestones in the history of his country was reached. And yet, in spite of its rampant mediocrity, Melfi again arranges them so that one does not consider their viewing lost time of so pleasant that is to see it.
The basis of the film is the eponymous book that Margot Lee Shetterly, An African-American born precisely in Hampton and whose father was a scientist at the Langley Research Center, published in 2010. Octavia Spencer is flawless as Dorothy Vaughan, as usual, and Janelle Mona defends herself more or less like Mary Jackson; But it is Taraji P. Henson who stands out as Katherine Johnson, giving us an interpretation full of gestural nuances. The comedian Jim Parsons, famous for his Sheldon Cooper of The Big Bang Theory, and Kirsten Dunst do not tell us much with their respective Paul Stafford and Vivian Mitchell, and the Al Harrison of Kevin Costner also excels.
Vaughan retired in 1971 and died in November 2008, at ninety-eight years of age; Jackson retired in 1985 and died in February 2005, at eighty-three; And Johnson left NASA in 1979 and still lives. These three African American women, who make up two of the most historically discriminated human groups, deserve to know their contributions and triumphs through the cinema, and a simple film as academic as Hidden Figures, especially, gives the pleasure to see how valuable people Overturn the pettiness of an obtuse system and achieve great things.