Saturday, February 11, 2017

Hidden Figures

What an experience to spend two hours of my life with Hidden Figures, directed by Ted Melfi, from the book by the same name written by Margot Lee Shetterly.  Both the book and the film were published in 2016.

The lives of  mathematicians Katherine G. Johnson (1918- ), Dorothy Vaughan (1910-2008), and Mary Jackson (1921-2005) as they work for NASA in 1961-62 are movingly portrayed by Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monae.

  • Very hard to watch the racist, sexist workplace in 1961 at Langley Research Center in Hampton, VA. 
  • Scary to learn how iffy those first rocket launches were.
  • Kevin Costner is convincing as Al Harrison, Director of the Space Task Group.
  • Definitely worth seeing.

Shetterly grew up as an African-American whose father was working as a research scientist at Langley, so she had intimate knowledge of that world.  This was her first book.

Her mother was an English professor at Hampton University.  After working in investment banking in New York City, she married and moved to Mexico, where she and her husband did content marketing and editorial consulting related to the Mexico tourism industry.

President Obama awarded Katherine G. Johnson the presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016 for her outstanding contributions to space flight.

Mary Jackson became NASA's first African-American female engineer.

Dorothy Vaughan became the first African-American woman to supervise a staff at Langley.

She later was promoted officially to this position. During her 28-year career, Vaughan prepared for the introduction of machine computers in the early 1960s by teaching herself and her staff the programming language of FORTRAN; she later headed the programming section of the Analysis and Computation Division (ACD) at Langley.

Vaughan was five years ahead of my father, who learned computer programming--Fortran and Cobol--in 1965 and then became a programmer for the Social Security Administration in Baltimore.  Through him I had an idea of how white and male the programming world was then--and coding (as it's now called) still is very male-dominated.

I watched comparing the film to my very limited view in 1961-62 of of the space program, segregation, and female oppression.  My eyes were opened to events I lived through but had no real understanding of.

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