L e s s o n 4 (LANGUAGE ARTS) 55 J o u r n e y s i n F i l m : H i d d e n F i g u r e s The Women of ‘West Computing’: A Viewer-Response Approach Enduring Understandings • Prejudice can blind people to the reality and potential around them. • With determination and courage, people can face and overcome challenges. • Friendship and love are enduring values that sustain people through adversity. • The United States always has been and continues to be growing in multiple cultural, scientific, and political arenas. • Essential Questions • What do the characters in Hidden Figures teach about dealing with adversity? • To what extent do the characters change during the course of the film? • In what ways do the three main female characters catalyze changes in others? • Who or what are the “Hidden Figures” of the title? Notes to the Teacher Hidden Figures includes some remarkable and famous people who had a great impact on the world around them: President John F. Kennedy, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Col. John Glenn, and Col. Yuri Gagarin. The main characters, however, are Kathleen G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson, extremely talented women, but in many ways just ordinary people. As the movie progresses, we see not so much dramatic character changes as a deepening of who they are as multi-faceted individuals. Living and working in a racist and sexist environment, they demonstrate self- esteem, intelligence, delightful feistiness, and down-to-earth practicality. The movie’s opening demonstrates Kathleen Goble Johnson’s early signs of extraordinary genius at mathematics, a trait that clearly flourished as she grew into maturity. Like her friends, she is keenly aware of both racial and gender biases that surround them, but she is not easily moved to anger. Instead, she works quietly within the system until her innate ability and fascination with math draw her into key work in the United States space program. Far from being a single-minded career woman, she is also a loving mother of three, a widow who still grieves the loss of her husband, a loyal friend, and a woman ready to move on with new love. Mary Jackson, from the first, is lively, mischievous, and fun- loving, as well as highly intelligent. Working in the computing process at Langley, she at first sees herself as hamstrung by the culture in which she lives. A conversation mobilizes her determination to become an engineer, which leads her
to confront a judge and integrate an all-white classroom as she begins to actualize her dream. As the actress who plays her role, Janelle Monáe, commented in an interview, Mary Jackson’s life demonstrates a commitment to justice and to the right to pursue aspirations. Dorothy Vaughan, from the beginning doing a supervisor’s job without the benefits of the position, demonstrates loyalty and the ability to remain simultaneously courteous, professional, and persistent in the face of frustration. She has an amazing ability to fix things and make them work.
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