“Hidden Figures Light Up Screen: Black Women Who Helped America Win the Space Race” Reading Response/ “Hidden Figures” Viewing Response

The events that occur in the film Hidden Figures serve as yet another example of how people are often left out and forgotten throughout history. For example, as Jenna P. Carpenter writes in her article “Hidden Figures Light Up Screen: Black Women Who Helped America Win the Space Race” and as the film Hidden Figures emphasizes, during the space race computers were human people, and “were largely women, some of whom were African American” (18). As Carpenter notes in her article, after recognizing the latter, Margot Lee Shetterly (the author of the book Hidden Figures: The Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematics Who Helped Win the Space Race, which later turned into the 2016 film Hidden Figures) knew that it was up to her to give these women a voice.

When considering the latter, it is important to note how- had it not been for Shetterly- these women (Dorothy Vaughan, Katherine Johnson, and Mary Jackson) and their stories may have forever remained hidden within history. Thus, both Shetterly book and the film that followed single-handedly shifted the way the general public perceives the extent to which women of color contributed to the space race, proving how a single person has to power to change the way the general public understands and perceives historical events. Noting the latter is important, as it goes to show how- on an individual level- we each have the power to catalyze change within society, as Shetterly did by writing her book.

Additionally, by writing her book, Shetterly not only impacted the way people now perceive the space race but has also shed light on how history tends to be whitewashed, and how the contributions of females- especially females of color- tend to be overlooked and overshadowed by their male counterparts. By revealing the truth behind the space race and the amount women contributed to the race, Shetterly will likely inspire others to think more critically about the extent to which we should trust historical “common knowledge,” and to consider who else has been left out of the history books.

2 comments

  1. I will admit that I have not read Shetterly’s book, so I wouldn’t know the answer to this, but I’m curious as to how much focus she placed on Al Harrison in the novel. Clearly, a lot of emphasis was placed on Harrison’s part in Katherine Johnson’s success, mostly through his passive acceptance of her work and “colorblind” leadership tactics. It was disappointing to see the film veer toward the White Savior trope, though the primary topic of the film was the three black female computers. As much as Shetterly’s book and the film can inspire change on an individual level, it was still upsetting to see so many tropes of black women and white men reified to make white audiences more comfortable with the story.

  2. There is a quote by Napoleon that states, when translated into English, “History is a set of lies agreed upon.”
    I think that it rings true in this instance: if no one had told the world of these remarkable women, they would have eventually been lost to history forever.
    I tie your statements about whitewashing history to the neglect of schools in teaching the vastly LGBTQ sides of history, including homosexuality in Greek myths, the sexualities of many poets (Emily Dickinson was likely asexual) and any other lack of historical information presented that would otherwise change the implication that homosexuality is a relatively “new” occurrence.

Leave a Reply