L e s s o n 7 (FILM LITERACY) 123 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 Enduring Understandings • A docudrama (such as Hidden Figures ) is based on true events but the filmmakers are free to add fictitious persons and/or events to tell the story in an entertaining way, in other words, to fictionalize the story as it is told. • The characters and events that are fictitious should be created faithfully to simplify and/or dramatize the story, not to exaggerate or distort this record of history. • A docudrama tells its story just as fiction films do, using whichever of the many filming techniques and editing devices the filmmaker thinks appropriate. • Essential Questions • What does active viewing (vs. passive) viewing demand of the viewer? What are its rewards for the viewer? • What film techniques were used in making Hidden Figures and how do they serve the filmmaker’s intention? • Does the filmmaker seem to have a point of view regarding the experiences of the black women who worked as “human computers” at NASA? • How can we know if the filmmaker takes exceptional liberties in creating fictional scenes and characters? Notes to the Teacher Hidden Figures is a docudrama which, unlike a documentary film, leaves the filmmaker free to invent characters who never existed and events that never occurred, presenting them as part of the story being told. Few of the named NASA personnel, other than the African-American “human computers” and the seven Mercury astronauts, represent actual persons; most are fictitious characters representing one or more real persons. For example, no such person as Paul Stafford (the only engineer in the Space Task Group with whom Katherine interacts directly in the film) worked at NASA. However, the interactions between Katherine and Stafford depicted in the film actually happened, albeit with several real engineers for whom Stafford stands in. What keeps a docudrama from being totally a work of fiction, however, is its mission to tell a basically true story of the reality that one or more persons (in this case three women) actually lived. Dorothy Vaughan, Katherine Johnson, and Mary Jackson actually worked at NASA as West (“colored”) “human computers” during the early 1960s and advanced to higher positions due to their exceptional mathematical skills. Much of what is depicted in this film is true to their life experiences, even though time is compressed and simplified for the sake of the story line. Asking students, and, indeed, all viewers, to be aware of the limits and ethical obligations in the creation of a docudrama is a good way to make them view the film more actively. While the passive film viewer may make such superficial judgments as “I really liked it” or “This film stinks!” the active viewer can say such things as “I find the women’s success too rapid to be believable, but I’m sure the racism of that time was as blatant, overt, and cruel as depicted,” or “I never believed some of Shooting Scripts and Active Viewing
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