This 2016 Oscar nominated movie is one of my favourites. It traces the real life story of three African-american women scientists who worked in NASA. Their contribution to the world of US space science is remarkable considering their working conditions.
It stars Taraji Hensen, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae in the lead roles with Kevin Costner, Jim Parsons and others in supporting roles.
Set in the early 60s, it gives a vivid picture of the conditions faced by black people who were racially segregated even almost a century after slavery was abolished in the USA.
Taraji plays mathematician Katherine Johnson. Katherine was a brilliant mathematician who was hailed as a human computer for the speed with which she could calculate. When, at the peak of the cold war between US and USSR, Yuri Gagarin of USSR became the first human to go the space and come back, USA got into the race to send astronauts to space. NASA (at that time it was called NACA) was also under more pressure to up its ante because of Kennedy’s declaration to put a man on the moon before any other country. He made that declaration even though NASA did not have any technology supporting that.
It is not enough to put a man in space, you had to bring him back too. But NASA had no clear way to bring back a space craft to the earth at that time. So a new team was set up to find the math to solve this problem and Katherine was the only black woman in this team. She was an expert in analytical geometry.
The movie took me into that time and made me feel for Katherine when she has to run across buildings for 2 miles just to use the washroom because as a black person she could not use the bathroom in the building that was exclusively for whites. Her colleagues also refuse to use the coffee maker that she uses. The seemingly condescending behavior of her colleagues who use her skill just to do paperwork and discard her inputs to solve the problem at hand made me want to punch a few smug faces. 😡 I got more and more angry when in spite of her solving the re-entry problem her name is excluded from the report and she is kept out of crucial meetings.
Octavia Spencer plays the part of Dorothy Vaughan, the mathematician and supervisor at NACA. Her story is also interesting. She single handedly manages a group of black women who do all the math calculations by hand. These women are housed in a different wing due to segregation. Though Dorothy acts as a supervisor she is never given the position and the salary to go with it. It was those times when computers were not in use. Then new IBM machines (those that occupy whole room!) are purchased. Due to these new acquisitions, she and her team are in the danger of losing their jobs. Dorothy learns to use the newly acquired IBM machines. She is prevented from reading books on Fortran from the office library citing white privileges. But she manages to steal the book and teaches herself and others programming. How awesome is that!
I cannot imagine working in such conditions. But these women did and did it with cheer and goodwill and kept their sanity.
Janelle plays Mary Jackson, an engineer at NASA. She too works as a human computer at NACA, she then takes up engineering course and goes on to become the first black engineer at NASA.
This movie celebrates these women’s achievements like no other. The way they play through the odds stacked up against them and still emerge winners is truly remarkable.
An unmissable film.
The A2Z challenge 2019 is going to be all the movies that have left an impact on me someway or the other. Some have made me think. Some that I like a lot, some that I really hated. But all of them have left a memory behind which makes the movie more special than the rest. They may not be all classics or iconic but they are close to my heart.