Hidden Figures and the implication that no story is complete without a white guy hero

In my experience, the genre of space movies has been consistently dominated by white males with a white woman tossed in every now and then. Hidden Figures¬†breaks from this mold by highlighting the stories of a group of black women who had an integral role in advancing the work of NASA. Every other space movie that I have seen positions the male astronaut as the protagonist. Hidden Figures is different because it brings to the forefront the efforts of those who have previously been considered “behind the scenes”.

The Calculated Response article was very interesting because it brought to my attention aspects of the movie that have been adjusted from reality to target a white audience. In particular, the article analyzes the role of Al Harrison, who is portrayed throughout the movie as being an advocate for equal rights. One of my favorite scenes was when he tore down the bathroom sign, signaling to Katherine that she could use the bathroom that was previously forbidden to her because of her race. When watching the movie, it did not occur to me that this scene and Al Harrison’s character were actually fictional and that he was inserted into the story in order to make white people feel better. After reading the article, I realized that was exactly the affect it had. When white people are faced with confronting the inequalities of the past, instead of acknowledging their wrongness, they grasp for a silver lining of sorts. Al Harrison’s character allows white people to watch this movie and in the midst of all the blatant discrimination and mistreatment, they can focus on him and say “look we weren’t all bad!” The upside of this is that it makes the story more appealing to white people thus broadening the scope of the audience and increasing the exposure of this very important story. The downside is that it detracts from the efforts of Katherine by implying that her success can be partly attributed to a white man. It begs the question, why was this necessary? Can white people really not enjoy a movie unless they are featured in some type of positive light. Would the movie have been better off without the “white savior” plot line? Or do the benefits of increased exposure outweigh the negative repercussions from a slight deviance in actual events? Additionally, I wonder if the decision to include Al Harrison was a conscious choice on the part of the director to cater to white people or of he just thought Harrison would make the movie more interesting without realizing the deeper implications.

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