I really didn’t think Hidden Figures (2016) was going to qualify for Mental Dam–which pissed me off because it’s supposed to be so good and so powerful. But at the last minute I realized that the screenplay was co-written, and that it was all adapted from a book written by a woman. So. Written by a woman/gender non-conforming person? Check. Starring a woman/gender non-conforming person? Triple check. Proceed.
I saw the movie tonight, at the end of a stressful week, with four other women from my mentoring organization, at the AMC Loews on the Boston Common (this is NOT a plug for them, by the way. Who the hell charges $14 for a movie ticket? In my day we payed a goddamn nickel for the ticket AND a little plastic baggie of loose cigarettes.) The movie was a community experience from the outset. I was so engaged, as was everyone in the audience–we all gasped and laughed and applauded together throughout, which was such fun.
Without spoiling too much–which is going to be the greatest challenge of my young life–I have to tell you that this was one of the greatest movies I have seen in a long-ass time. I’m not really a crier generally, but I sobbed straight through the whole thing. It wasn’t that it was sad, and in fact it was overwhelmingly an uplifting movie. But these women went through so damn much and worked so damn hard.
a) Racism. Seriously, can that guy from the Big Bang Theory pull the stick out of his butt for one second and look Taraji P. Henson in the eye? Most of the racism wasn’t a surprise, though it still felt so shitty. But honestly I think the worst was all these white folks (looking at you, Kevin Costner) who think they’re so wonderful for treating these three women like human beings. Yeah, of course you should shake their hands and be grateful for their math and say things like “we all piss the same color”, but that passive positivity doesn’t make you a hero. This isn’t about you.
b) Sexism. Great so when people weren’t looking at them sideways for being Black, it was for being female? And they referred to them as “girls”? Again, no surprise, and obviously very on-theme for 1961, but come ON.
c) When was the last time you saw three Black women in starring roles portrayed as confident, complex, and awesome at math/science? It’s been a while. Which I think was part of what overwhelmed me so much about this movie–seeing these women inhabit a world of their choosing even when things weren’t perfect, at NASA and at home, was such a gift. Their friendships, their families, and their ambitions were never at odds. They were never jealous or resentful of one another. They never asked whether or not they could have it all. They just went out and got it.
d) Janelle Monae is the hero that America needs, though certainly not the one it deserves. The woman is i c o n i c.
*I actually don’t get that play on words, really. Like I get that the women are important figures hidden in history, but I think it’s also a math joke? Which is not my thing. Yikes.