Hidden Figures is a fiction film adapted from Margo Lee Shetterly’s nonfiction book by the same name. It is about a group of African American women who are mathematicians. As if that were not exceptional enough, they work for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) at Langley, Virginia. But— wait for it— in the early 1960s. A true story—
This movie is an homage to women taking their rightful place in the history of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). However, now understanding ‘art’ unleashes scientific capacity — this film about Sci-tech is also about STEAM. It is no accident most of the women depicted in the book and film were educated at Historically Black Colleges and Universities known then, and now, for pushing students to excellence in all fields.
Hidden Figures focuses on a small pertinent aspect of the source book— how a cadre of Black women helped launch the Mercury 7 astronauts. Set in 1961, the back drop is a pivotal period in the United States civil rights struggle, the imbalances of the Cold War, and the peri-WWII legacy pushing women into the previously male dominated work force. The collaboration between the characters in the film mirrors that of the production team which developed the project.
The California Film Institute, parent of the Mill Valley Film Festival (MVFF), has an ongoing initiative to improve the status of women behind the camera in the film industry. The initiative is called Mind the Gap. At MVFF39, October 8, 2016, Mind the Gap programing provided a sneak preview and panel dialog about Hidden Figures. Film professionals working on the project were present for a chat hosted by Variety’s Melina Saval. Participants included Elizabeth Gabler (president, Fox 2000), Mimi Valdez (Executive Producer), Mandy Walker (director of photography), and Marissa Paiva (Vice President, Fox 2000). These production partners and crew are deeply committed to providing a platform for the best films about and by women in a racially, culturally and gender expansive context. They are being the change they want to see.
The phrase that comes to mind about Hidden Figures is “When you Strike Woman you strike rock.” That’s a calculated intertextual reference to women’s struggle inserted by the filmmakers. The screenwriter, Allison Schroeder, and director of photography Mandy Walker along with Melfi, made fine compositional and emotional choices. Among those choosing a well informed visual aesthetic. DP Walker explained, during the Mind the Gap session, research included exploring the documentary series Eyes on the Prize; works of Concerned Photographer Gordon Parks; and those of Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee photographer Danny Lyons
Hidden Figures. http://www.imdb.com/title/
tt4846340/ accessed October 11, 2016
The Congressional STEAM Caucus. http://stemtosteam.org/events/
congressional-steam-caucus/ accessed October 9, 2016.
Shetterly, Margo Lee. https://www.harpercollins.com/
9780062363596/hidden-figures accessed October 8, 2016
Eyes on the Prize. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/
Mind the Gap http://www.mvff.com/mind-the-