For decades, until the publication of Margot Lee Shetterly’s book Hidden Figures , the story of Johnson, Vaughan, and Jackson, NASA’s so-called “human computers,” went untold. But when their story crossed my path—a story that blurs gender, race, and professional lines—I knew this was a part of history that had to be told. Fifty-five years later, Hidden Figures is a rich and moving true story that deserves a spot in our collective consciousness. The backdrop for the movie is one of the most defining, complex periods in American history: the high-stakes Cold War, the space race, the Jim Crow South and the birth of the civil rights movement. Exploring these historic events serves as a reminder that we must learn from our past experiences while continuing to catapult ourselves forward. It was also important for me, as a son raised by a single mother and as the father of two daughters, to explore the importance of STEM as a compelling and viable career choice for young girls. The media, cinema, and other public discourse often do society a disservice by not presenting strong, independent women in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math on a regular basis. Drawing attention to these figures, often hidden in plain sight, will hopefully help to chart a new course for female students and change the composition of these vital industries. At its core, Hidden Figures is the story of three remarkable women who overcame every obstacle stacked against them, despite gender, race, and the political landscape of the time. Illuminating this universal experience for the next generation was critical. My goal was to showcase how skill and knowledge are equalizers, how hard work and determination are the cornerstones to every pursuit, and how uniting under a common goal is more powerful than staying divided. Johnson, Vaughan, and Jackson were pioneers who broke down commonly held perceptions and achieved something phenomenal. Their legacy of persistence serves to empower people of all circumstances and teaches us, as NASA points out in its webpage on Katherine Johnson, • To love learning. • To follow your passion. • To accept the help you’re given, and help others when you can. • To follow new leads and don’t give up. Keep trying. • To go beyond the task at hand; ask questions; be inquisitive. Let yourself be heard. • To do what you love, and love what you do. I hope that through the exploration of Hidden Figures —and your own passions—you, too, will achieve the seemingly impossible. Theodore Melfi Director, Hidden Figures
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 10 10 Their story is also the story of the world in which they lived and worked—the racism and segregation that made their lives more difficult; the beginnings of the civil rights movement in the South; the Cold War with Russia that gave such impetus to the drive for superiority in space; and the space race itself.
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