The Hidden Problems of Hidden Figures

Hidden Figures tells the previously untold story of African-American women working at NASA during the Space Race. I thought the movie was well done and compelling. I admit I was surprised at the cursing in the movie – I’m guessing they hit the max number allowed in the PG movie…but I’m glad they didn’t needlessly bump it up to a PG-13! Drives me crazy when that happens!

I did wonder though, since this is based on a true story, what about it was actually true?


Text at the end of the movie tell you some parts that actually happened, but I had already assumed the overarching stuff was real, what about the details?

This article contains spoilers.

If you’re like me and want to separate fact from fiction, you’ll probably enjoy this piece:

A few things from that which I found interesting: Stafford and Mitchell are fictional characters. This is bothersome to me because of the extreme anti-African-American attitudes they portray. I’m not saying people like that didn’t exist. Obviously, racism was and is real, which recent events have highlighted, but some of what they portray in the movie actually runs contrary to what happened. I’m annoyed that Hollywood felt compelled to write in a worse race relationship than was in the true story. Sure, what they told fits the cultural narrative most people want you to believe about that era, but doesn’t that make the stories that don’t fit that narrative all the more valuable? Shouldn’t these stories be told for what they are? Stories that present unity across the races are needed to help promote healing. When we rewrite history in this way it can only exacerbate the problems at hand, and make it more difficult to be a balm.

The bathroom aspect of the story is likewise changed from what actually happened to what is shown in the movie. This is also unfortunate. Doesn’t the fact that Katherine actually used the white bathroom make for a good story too? You could even include the one encounter where someone told her not to use it and she ignored them (and was never told that again) if you wanted to build the drama and slightly misrepresent the situation. What’s wrong with showing Mary being the one running around trying to find the bathroom since she’s the one it happened to? One thing I’m interested in that isn’t address in the linked article is whether the colored bathrooms were abolished during this time, and if it was the result of these women.

And why add in a huge struggle with Dorothy being passed over for a promotion (when, in fact, she already had it before the film picks up) unless you’re wanting to create false racial tensions? Why would you want to promote that when there’s already enough wounds to heal nationally?

These criticisms of the film doesn’t mean it isn’t worth seeing. I really enjoyed the movie and think it is worth owning. I loved how it incorporated historical footage was incorporated into the film, and I appreciated how some parts (like the parts with Glenn during his preflight and flight) were practically verbatim to what actually happened.

But don’t accept the film as gospel truth. I think the actual story would’ve been even more compelling, and is certainly needed culturally, but facts and situations were altered for the film. So go, enjoy the film, but also learn the true story of these Hidden Figures.

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About Amanda Shreve

Amanda loves God, her husband, and her children. She is a full time stay at home mom who freelances in between chores. Books are one of her favorite things, and she prefers musicals, drama, and family films over action ones any day.
This entry was posted in All, Feminism, Film/TV Reviews, Movies, Social Issues and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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