Postechian’s Pick : Hidden Figures
Postechian’s Pick : Hidden Figures
  • reporter Choi Eun-je
  • 승인 2020.11.27 14:34
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▲Hidden Figures (2016)
▲Hidden Figures (2016)


Hidden Figures (2016) is a film loosely based on a non-fiction book of the same name by Margot Lee Shetterly and is about three African American female mathematicians who worked at NASA during the Space Race. At that time, due to racial segregation, everything was separated into “for colored” and “for white”; even for bus seats. However, what made the situation worse is that women were discriminated against in many fields as well. The movie shows how they behaved and got credit for their ability in that period.
Main story
Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson, and Dorothy Vaughan are three African American female mathematicians who work for NASA. They perform calculations in the Colored Computers Department. At that time, electronic computers were not commercially available yet, so mathematical calculations were performed by humans. The term “computer” meant a person who calculates.
Katherine is transferred to the Space Task Group, which develops flight paths for rocket launches. However, since there are no toilets for colored ladies in the building, she has to go to the building of her former workplace, which is far away. Her white colleagues are unpleasant towards her, but she proves her ability through accurate calculations of the rocket path. When Al Harrison, the division manager, notices Katherine’s long absence from work and rebukes her, she tells him about colored toilets and laments about the bad treatment and payment of blacks. Harrison then immediately knocks off the “colored” sign of the toilet and says it should now be equally available by all employees. Afterward, Katherine calculates the coordinates for a re-entry into the atmosphere and leads the project successfully.
Mary is transferred to a department that develops space capsules. She applies to be an engineer, but it turns out that additional training is required. However, no university in Virginia offers such courses for African Americans. She demands in court to be allowed to take part in these courses with whites and eventually becomes the first female engineer at NASA.
Dorothy is the unofficial supervisor of the Colored Computers, but her application for promotion is not approved because she is colored. When she finds out an IBM computer has been installed, she realizes that it will threaten her and her colleagues’ jobs. She finds literature on computer languages and begins to study computer programming. When it turns out she has already mastered the device, the Space Task Group is amazed, and Dorothy is appointed as the supervisor of a new department that handles the computer.
The movie tells us that no one should be discriminated against by skin color or gender, and people should be judged through their ability. Despite the white colleagues’ disregard and contempt, the three black female mathematicians overcame discrimination and proved their ability. This clearly shows that one cannot be judged by race nor gender. After Harrison knocks off the “colored” sign of the toilet, he says “At NASA, we all pee the same color”, which emphasizes the message of the movie.
However, there are still many types of discrimination that remain in society. Although it is said that there is less discrimination compared to the past, many people are still discriminated against because of race, gender, ethnicity, and so on. Society has a long way to go to become discrimination-free.
I was impressed by Dorothy who self-taught programming when the IBM computer was being installed. She knew that she and her colleagues would be replaced by computers and lose their jobs. However, she was a step ahead. She knew what would be required in the near future and learned it. As a result, she was appointed as supervisor, taking credit for her skills.
Nowadays, the world is changing more rapidly. For example, the field of Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) is expanding day and night. Other research fields are conducting studies through A.I., and even social science fields, such as finance, marketing, and media, are using A.I. In such situation, we should also be a step ahead of change. To be a master of the upcoming future, know what will be required and prepare for it, just like how Dorothy did.