The Importance of Hidden Figures
It has been shown time and time again the significant impact that the media can generate amongst the public. Through its representation and depiction of people, this powerful tool of expression and communication is able to adhere to and/or alter the way people perceive others. The power of the media carries the expectations and hopes of many underrepresented minorities. Hidden Figures is the movie of the true story of three African-American women working for NASA during the Space Race, a historically significant time for astronomy. Its impact lies in its portrayal of black women in America, which in the media has previously been shown in extremes: as women who are aggressive and irrationally angry, or as objects meant to be hyper-sexualized and inhumanly defined solely by their sexuality. Most forms of representation have been dehumanizing and based largely off of stereotypes. As a non black woman, I was able to make many empowering observations about the movie that are important to be noted by non black people as a way of understanding the hardships faced by black women in America due to the normalcy of misogynoirism. Hidden Figures, by telling the world the brave stories of three incredible women, Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson, shatters the continuity of the media’s misrepresentation of black women and gives the world an opportunity to learn about the impact that these women have made in the face of their hardships, and gives young black girls the representation and inspiration they need to see.
The consistent perpetuation of stereotypes and misrepresentations of black women are prevalent in Western media. They affect other people’s perceptions and treatment of and towards them, as well as create an unfair environment for black women. In a world typically riddled with dehumanizing traits, Hidden Figures defies these and shows people a humane portrayal of black women. It is set in a time where working outside of the home in a STEM related environment, even as a white woman, was a leap for womankind. Black women faced two immense barriers to their success: their gender and race. Hidden Figures shows the world that black women hold the strength, resilience, and utter brilliance to fight against systemically oppressive barriers. These barriers are exemplified when the women in Hidden Figures have to work in an office that is brimming with the common racism of that time and are constantly told that they do not belong in an institution they have worked so hard to be a part of. Their strength and endurance shows the difficulty that black women have lived through in America. Their intelligence is shown through their ability to not only continue working at NASA, but to contribute significantly to historically momentous aspects of American and universal astronomical and revolutionary history. They are not the irrationally angry people we see on comedy shows nor are they objectified to the point of inhumane sexualization. They are humans who have had their brilliance confined to the shackles that a racist, misogynistic society has created, people who have had to go through five times the obstacles that their coworkers have gone through and beings whose struggles and fights for their humanity were forced into systemic silence.
Through the defiance of the stereotypes we always see in the media, Hidden Figures becomes a humane representation of black women, and an important source of empowerment for young black girls. Taking into consideration the stereotypes mentioned above and the way they affect the public’s perception of black women, as well as a black girl’s self-perception, this defiance is important to understand. Its impact is substantial, as it is common for impressionable children to look to the media for role models to understand what is deemed acceptable and normal by their societies. To see a positive representation of black women is to see themselves within these women. As a non-black person of colour myself, seeking representation in the media was important to me and my self-esteem. By being presented with figures who embody positive, human traits, children can embrace their individualism and bring themselves to success rather than be defined by generalizations and stereotypes. For people of colour, who are either underrepresented or misrepresented in the media, what Hidden Figures brings to the media is the opportunity for non-black people like myself to learn about the struggles of black women, and how their individuality and humanity will always speak more to their character than the generalizations presented in the media. And more importantly, Hidden Figures gives young black girls their own heroes: strong women who, in the face of constant racism and misogyny, were able to resiliently navigate through their obstacles. They fight as unapologetic black women conquering fields dominated by white men. They show young black girls the importance of embracing their true selves fully and lovingly even while facing constant systemic and societal pressures to remain restrained by narrow-minded molds.
Hidden Figures is an impactful movie in a time of social awareness. It is an informative medium to those who do not identify with the struggle faced by black women, and a powerful message to these women and girls that their resilience and intelligence is significant and ever present.
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