Both the film and the “Calculated Responses” reading address an issue that has been brought up before in this class (and in other leadership classes). It is the question of how one should resist oppression: by operating within oppressive systems, dismantling them from the inside, or by tearing down those institutions and attempting to rebuild them from scratch. Hidden Figures seems to favor the former option, as its heroes all make strides towards equality from within NASA and American society at large.
Katherine, Mary, and Dorothy must face several institutions that are discriminatory against their race and gender. The most obvious of these institutions is NASA. Although the task to advance their careers is a daunting one, all three women eventually succeed at their positions at the organization. Other institutions and systems in the film, however, are more difficult to dismantle for these characters. As the reading discusses, all three women must also deal with established notions of the “proper” family. Katherine in particular does not fit the mold, as she is a single mother. However, she “fixes” this in the film by marrying. In this way, the film seems to take a conservative stance on family and gender politics. Not only does Katherine succeed in her career, but she also “succeeds” at obtaining a more “complete” family.The film seems to equate these two “successes,” signaling that Katherine’s marriage is just as important as her success at NASA.
This brings me back to the question of how best to resist oppression. The film seems to take a firm stance: that, at least in this case, the right course of action was to operate within the confines of the system that was already in place in an attempt to undermine that very system and create a more equitable world. The women are considered heroes in the film for their willingness to endure racism and sexism at work in order to achieve a higher goal.
One last thing to consider is the fact that before this film was released, hardly anyone knew the story of Katherine Johnson. The film argues that she made considerable progress for Black women at NASA, but what does it say that no one actually knows this story? It reminds me of the issue of how history is written that Miranda brings up in Hamilton. Does remembrance of history’s heroes matter? Or are the institutional and cultural changes they inspire more important? (Obviously they are, but how much more important are they than the stories we tell?)