May 29

Blog #155 – Hidden Figures

This film is a stirring film about the intersection of math and history and how math conquers all (rejoice, my math teacher friends!).  The story portrays the struggles of Dorothy Vaughn, NASA’s first African American supervisor; Katherine Johnson, the math expert on the John Glenn flightImage result for hidden figures review and also instrumental in the moon landing; and Mary Jackson, NASA’s first female African American engineer.  It is startling to see how Jim Crow racism was shoved in the face of these strong women, typified in Katherine’s struggle to maintain her dignity while sprinting across NASA’s campus to visit the only “colored” bathroom nearby.  Furthermore, the women of the West Computing Room have to deal with the intersectionality of both racism and sexism since they are women of color.  With Dorothy’s leadership, they are able to carve out a niche in the very male-dominated computing field.

In some ways, this is a film about progress: Civil Rights progress, gender progress, and also technology’s relentless march forward.  This is shown by the real film clips of Civil Rights protests occurring in 1961 and 1962.  We also see progress as women make strides into the male-dominated fields of computers and engineering.  Almost all of the white male characters at NASA are figurative clones, wearing white shirts, dark pants, and thin dark ties.  Occasionally, we might see a flash of color on Paul Stafford’s tie (Jim Parsons from The Big Bang Theory), but for the most part, all of the white men have the same uniform and haircuts.  That’s why the women of color stand out, not just in their attire but because of their skin color.  We see technology’s progress, however much it is double-sided, when Katherine temporarily loses her job as a “computer” in the Space Task Group when Dorothy finally gets the IBM Main frame computers online, a machine that can do 24,000 calculations a second.  This machine makes the women of both the East (white) and West (Black) Computing Rooms obsolete.  Only when the computer spits out different landing coordinates for John Glenn’s return to Earth right before launch does Al Harrison (Kevin Costner), NASA’s head of the Space Task Group, bring Katherine back in to confirm the computer’s numbers.

There was an outstanding moment near the end of the film when news of John Glenn’s orbit is released, and all Americans, regardless of skin color or gender, are united in their worries over the fate of Glenn (aImage result for hidden figures reviewnd by extension, America’s space program and maybe even its prominence in the Cold War).  Scenes show black and white Americans standing in front of a store front watching the TV reports about the peril Glenn faced as his capsule threatened to burn up on re-entry (an aside: imagine this dramatic scene of a nation gripped by a similar incident today – how would Americans be tuning into the progress of such an incident?  Certainly not standing on a street watching a TV).  Another scene showed Americans parking their cars and listening to their radios, staring up at the sky, looking for a fleeting glimpse of Glenn’s capsule, even though it was going to splash down in the Bahamas.  These scenes showed a united America, hoping and praying for the successful return of one of our golden boys, the Mercury 7 astronauts.  These scenes are also a way of showing how little militancy there is to this story of racial advancement and integration.  The most powerful scenes in the film are ones in which characters stand up for themselves or right the wrongs of our sordid past.  This is not a criticism of this film.  It doesn’t need to be angry about the past. In fact, this film emphasizes the women of the film and to dwell on America’s sad racial history isn’t what this film is about.  It’s about transcending that history.

I think that one of the larger question that everyone should be asking themselves is how did this story not make it into the history books?  It has great human drama, excitement, daring, perseverance, and a thrilling conclusion.  The other question is how many other hidden and forgotten stories are out there, waiting to be told?   If these ladies, who were such an extraordinary part of this story to send Americans into space, can be forgotten and shunted to the side for over 60 years, where are the rest of these stories?  One thing to keep in mind is that by telling these hidden stories of people / women of color, we as historians do not have to pick and choose to eliminate stories of white participants, but to include them all.    History doesn’t have to be like a pie to be carved up into smaller and smaller sections but like a tapestry that continues to be weaved into a more complete picture.


  1. Explain how the title “Hidden Figures” has different layers of meaning for this film and time period.
  2. Provide at least 2 specific examples of Jim Crow discrimination or racism perpetrated by the white characters and how they affected Katherine, Mary, and / or Dorothy.
  3. This is a story of overcoming challenges that white society put in the way of our main characters.  How did all three women overcame these obstacles.
  4. How did sexism affect Dorothy’s, Mary’s, and Katherine’s careers?  Provide specific examples.
  5. How does the Civil Rights Movement play as the backdrop for the advancing fight against the Cold War’s space race?  Provide examples.


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300 minimum words for your total answer for all three questions.  Due Thursday night, June 1, by 11:59 p.m. 

Posted May 29, 2023 by geoffwickersham in category Uncategorized

62 thoughts on “Blog #155 – Hidden Figures

  1. Brock Kusiak

    1. The title of this movie has two meanings. One of them is the fact that the three women were overlooked by the other people at NASA because of their race. Another was just the fact that they were women and that very little if any women worked in the stem field at that time. This title could also relate to the unsolved math and problems being figure out in the film.
    2. Mary wanted to become an engineer but was rejected at first because she did not take the extra classes needed. When she found a high school that had the classes she was not able to attend because Virginia did not allow African Americans in their white schools. She was able to attend by winning a battle in court. When Dorothy took her children to the public library and was asked to look in the colored section for the book she wanted when Dorothy was already aware it was in the white section. They were taken out by force and an officer was grabbing one of her sons. On the bus, she told her kids that she pays her tax dollars for the library and should be allowed to get the book that she wants.

    4. Kathrine was told she could not attend Pentagon briefings because there were no protocols for women. This led to her having to restart her work constantly because information was consistently being rendered obsolete. When she was finally invited to one of the meetings she was able to show off her skills. When Kathrine first met her husband Colonel Johnson he was surprised that they let a woman get a job at NASA in the mathematics field. He said that he didn’t think that could ever happen.

  2. Juno Saulson

    The title “Hidden Figures” is a direct allusion to the struggles the three protagonists face during the course of the film. Despite providing many examples of the means in which women of color (specifically Katherine, Mary, and Dorothy) assisted society as well as the field of STEM as a whole, they aren’t awarded or even provided acknowledgement for their efforts, and they were practically the reason we got a man on the moon in the first place (and managed to get him back to earth without killing him). The film provides a necessary acknowledgement for what these “hidden” women did. It gives them the recognition they deserve.

    Considering the era in which the film takes place it’s understandable that it’s riddled with examples of racial discrimination, bias, and segregation as a whole. A prime example of such racism is present in the library scene: Dorothy needs a book to help her learn about coding, however, it just so happens to be in the “whites only” section of the library. Before she can make her case to the security guard (as well as the librarian) she’s kicked out. Another key example comes into play during the early days of Katherine’s promotion when she’s still getting the hang of her new job (with majority white men, and Sheldon for some reason). The building she’s working in only has bathrooms for white people, so, at multiple times during her incredibly busy work day, she’s forced to run across NASA’s substantially sized campus in order to find a bathroom she’s actually allowed to be in. Though, her boss eventually finds out about her daily journey to use the restroom and breaks down the “colored bathroom” sign in an effort to show solidarity with Katherine. Which feels very white savior-y, especially considering that he was a character created by the writers based on a real person. This never actually happened.
    5. Considering how the Civil Rights Era of the 1960s coincided with the early days of the Cold War between the US and USSR, the fight for Civil Rights among black and brown Americans served as a kind of “B plot” for the movie. While the US was claiming to be fighting against the “communist dogs” of Eastern Europe (and parts of Asia) and being seen as a beacon of freedom and liberation (in comparison to these communist nations), they completely failed to acknowledge the freedom and liberation of their own citizens residing in their borders. Which feels somewhat hypocritical considering the political and social climate of the time.

    (sorry it’s so late)

  3. Renna Robinson

    2. Jim Crow discrimination had an important impact on the women while working at NASA. Their lives were completely different from those of the white workers there, and every day they endured greater struggles. The black women were forced to use different restrooms than the white women at NASA. This resulted in Katherine having to walk all the way to a different building just to use the restroom during the day, which took away from the time that she was able to get work done with. In one scene during the movie we see Katherine running through the rain in her heels, which women were expected to wear to work, just to use the restroom and being scolded for her disappearance because the white men at NASA never even considered that she had to leave. Mary was also affected by this discrimination when she was not allowed into the room where the engineers worked just because she was an African American woman.
    3. To overcome obstacles that the white society put in the way of these women, they fought back in multiple ways. Mary, after not being allowed to be an engineer because of rules about classes they had to take, went to court to be allowed to attend a segregated high school for the required courses. Dorothy learned how to use the IBM computer and taught her team while trying to be named supervisor. Katherine double checked calculations to ensure that the space mission was safe and was the only person who was trusted to do so.
    4. Sexism was an important thing holding the women back in their careers. They were not seen at the same level as the male employers were and were treated as dumb secretaries or janitors. Being black was bad enough in this setting, but being female caused the NASA employees to exclude them from important meetings, like when Katherine needed to be in the room for the debriefing in order to do her math with the correct data when the information was released.

  4. Jack brunt

    Hidden figures isnt only the title but also the position that they were put in, the cop doesint expect them to work at nasa because there black and woman but once confronted he appepts that as a fight against a common enemy the soviets. They were a hidden part of history where nowone knew black woman worked at nasa and helped propel the us to the space age, They were hidden from history, and put in the backdrop of history books only shightly mentioned so many thought it was a good idea to make a movie and bring the recognition to thos who sacrificed there time and effort just to be hidden in history.
    When the hidden figures car breaks down in the middle of the road, The cop that pulls up to them first yells at them like is that disrespect i hear, he assumed they were hoodlems because they were black but once he realised that they worked for nasa and were fighting against the soviets he was nice. Another time was the coffee pot, there was a black person pot and a white person pot to make coffee with and nobody wanted to make coffee with her black person pot because they thought it was contaminated.
    5) It acts as a backdrop becasue america was more focused on the combined enemy the belief was if we dont win we will be eliminated so many took that over the civil rights movement out of fear. Civil rights was a big issue at the time and many wanted change but many americans saw the ussr advancing in the space race faster than america as the more primary issue, the fear was if the ussr could make it to space they could drop nukes on the us and we wanted the ability to take out soviet nukes in space, it was more fear based there was no fear incentive to advance the civil rights movement in america becasue there was no threat of total inialation.

  5. Zackary Norwood

    1. The film “Hidden Figures” goes into the meaning of its title. On the surface, it alludes to the women who work in the background at NASA and are underappreciated in comparison to their white and male coworkers, who overshadow their own accomplishments. As the plot develops, we see them making progress toward their objectives and gaining the respect they deserve. But a deeper meaning of the title can be seen in other areas, it represents the marginalized Black Americans who have played crucial roles throughout American history. “Hidden figures” refers to their accomplishments and presence, which are sometimes ignored or obscured by the people around them. The film also uses old and new math, showing that the old math can accomplish great things just as new math can.

    2. When Katherine attempts to use the restroom, there is clear Jim Crow segregation present, which is an obvious instance of discrimination. She realizes she needs to use the restroom after settling into her new office at the NASA HQ. She cannot use the same facilities as white ladies, though, because of Jim crow laws. Since she has to go all the way to the West Wing to use the restroom, it creates the misleading impression that she is lazy and takes too many breaks, posing a her career. Additionally, despite her work in confirming their computations, Katherine’s gender and color result in significantly less pay compared to her white male coworkers. She is even forced to  use a broken coffee maker in her new office.

    3. The story’s main characters prevailed under the constraints placed on them by prejudice in a number of different ways. Katherine confronted her boss about the racism that plagued NASA’s regulations. She was prohibited from board meetings, she had to make lengthy trips across campus to the bathroom. Mary took legal action to get into college courses that were necessary for her engineering dreams. She won in court, obtaining the chance she had been initially denied. Dorothy wanted to work as a NASA supervisor, but racism stood in her way. In order to get the job she wanted, she developed a relationship with a coworker and pushed her to reexamine racism.

  6. Sylvie Ball

    The title, Hidden Figures is in reference to the way that women and black people were never and sometimes are never highlighted. Thinking back to a specific example is when Katherine was prohibited from putting her name on the work that she did, as to diminish the meaning of her work and to take credit away and give it to the white man. Along with Katherine’s two other friends as well, they were never really properly recognized for their contributions at the time. It shows how they were never seen before their jobs at nasa even though they possessed the same tremendous talents they had whilst they were doing their work for the launch.
    KAtherine had to pass a lot of challenges to get into the control room at the end, she had segregated parking and bathrooms so she got less time to do her week on behalf of the bathroom breaks and gettin things from her car. She had to deal with laws against women or not laws but restrictions against women as well, when she wasn’t gettin the information to make accurate calculations fast enough she wanted to get into the meetings that would allow her to do so, but she wasnt authorized to since women weren’t allowed. Dorothy’s computing group was going to get shut down in the end, and also faced the issue of trying to get her and her colleagues to be trusted in the more male dominated positions. Mary needed 9 classes at an all white institution and couldn’t get in because of jim crow laws but presented her case to the court and won, and later graduated and became an engineer.
    When Dorothy started her new job at Langley there were 2 separate areas for computing groups, one for white one for black. The white women on the esast side handed out tasks for the women on the west and expected them to work out the problems that they would piece together and send to higher ups. The women at west computing group never got to rub shoulders with the higher ups that they were doing the work for. Mary Jackson was inquiring to some women about where the “colored” bathrooms were and they laughed because they had no clue. They found a sense of superiority in having a separate and nicer bathroom than Mary and expressed that through their laughter.

  7. Anaiah Green

    #1 hidden figures has different layers of meaning through race and gender. During this time period it was an accomplishment for a black person to have success in a career primarily dominated by white people or to just be in a career dominated by white people. Because they were black women, this was the reason they were hidden figures. Most people would not know about the team of black women who contributed significantly to the orbit if not for this movie. Their accomplishments were hidden from everyone. The movie showed that without the work of black women the launch into space would have not been successful

    #2 One discrimination Katherine faced was segregated bathrooms. She would have to go all the way to the other building because the building she was moved to, to do calculations only had white bathrooms and no colored bathrooms. Katherine made forty minute trips to use the restroom everyday until the bathrooms in her building were integrated. Another discrimination which was faced by Mary was education. She was pushed by an engineer at nasa to get her own engineering degree. Mary believed she could not do it because she was a black woman, even her spouse did not believe it was possible. Mark went to court and argued for her education and she won the court case.

    #3 Mary overcame her challenges by fighting for her education. Even through being put down by her own spouse she still believed she could become and engineer and she did. Katherine overcame her challenges by proving her calculations were right and doing her job better than any of the white people or anyone else in general. Dorothy overcame her challenges by practicing and learning how to use the new computers to prove her worth; she also encouraged the other black women she worked with.

  8. natehidalgo

    2. In the film, Katherine Johnson is assigned to work in the Space Task Group at NASA’s Langley Research Center. However, the center enforces strict segregation, with separate facilities for African-American employees. Katherine has to walk long distances to use the black bathrooms in another building, often leading to her being late for meetings and calculations. These segregated facilities not only humiliate Katherine but also waste her time and hinder her ability to contribute fully to the project. Another one is when Mary faces discrimination when she wants to become an engineer. In order to qualify for an engineering course at a segregated high school, Mary is required to take additional classes. However, these courses are only offered at a white-only school. Mary has to fight for her right to attend these classes by going to court and convincing a judge to grant her access. This example highlights the systemic racism that limited educational opportunities for African-Americans and the resilience required to overcome such barriers.

    3. Katherine Johnson: Despite facing segregation and limited access to resources, Katherine overcomes the challenges by showcasing her exceptional mathematical skills and determination. She faces the constant struggle of running back and forth between buildings to use the colored bathroom, but she refuses to let it hinder her work. Eventually, her supervisor, Al Harrison, played by Kevin Costner, recognizes her talent and invites her to meetings, disregarding the racial barriers. Katherine also gains the respect and support of her colleagues, who begin to value her contributions and rely on her calculations. Through her perseverance, expertise, and determination, Katherine becomes an invaluable member of the Space Task Group, helping to achieve groundbreaking results for NASA.

    Mary Jackson: Mary’s ambition to become an engineer faces significant roadblocks due to segregation and limited educational opportunities for African-Americans. However, she doesn’t let these obstacles deter her. With the support of a mentor and the encouragement of her husband, Mary takes legal action to gain access to the engineering classes offered at a white-only school. She successfully argues her case in court and secures permission to attend the classes necessary for her career advancement. Mary’s determination, intelligence, and resilience enable her to break down racial barriers and become the first African-American female engineer at NASA.

    Dorothy Vaughan: Dorothy, an incredibly talented mathematician and programmer, faces discrimination and resistance in her quest for professional recognition. She realizes that the introduction of IBM computers will render her and her team of African-American “human computers” obsolete unless she can adapt and learn the new technology. Dorothy takes the initiative to teach herself and her colleagues how to program the IBM computers. This not only ensures their continued relevance but also positions her as an indispensable asset to NASA. By mastering the IBM technology and leading her team through this transition, Dorothy secures her place and gains the respect of her superiors, breaking down racial and gender barriers within the organization.

    4. Because there were no policies in place for women, Kathrine was informed that she could not attend Pentagon briefings. As a result, she frequently had to restart her job because information was continuously becoming outdated. She eventually got the chance to showcase her abilities when she demanded to be in one of the sessions. Many men including the police officer and even her husband expressed surprise that a woman was able to work in mathematics at NASA. This is due to the fact that many men did not view women as mathematicians but rather as moms and homemakers.

  9. Sanuthi W

    1. The title “Hidden Figures” carries multiple layers of meaning for both the film and the time period it represents. Firstly, it refers to the main characters, Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson, and Dorothy Vaughan, who were African-American women working as mathematicians and engineers at NASA during the 1960s. Despite their contributions to the space program, their achievements were often overlooked and unrecognized, making them “hidden” figures in history. Secondly, the title also talks about the broader context of systemic racism and discrimination that existed during that time, where African-Americans faced immense barriers and were often marginalized and overlooked in various fields. It highlights the struggle for recognition, representation, and equality that the film addresses.
    2. One specific example of Jim Crow discrimination in the film is depicted by Katherine Johnson when she’s assigned to work in the West Area Computers division at NASA. The division is segregated, and Katherine is the only African-American woman in a predominantly white and male environment. She encounters a separate and unequal treatment of facilities, such as having to use a different coffee pot labeled “colored” and having to run half a mile to use the restroom designated for African-Americans. These discriminatory practices perpetuate a sense of isolation and inferiority, making Katherine’s work environment hostile and dehumanizing. Another example involves Mary Jackson. Despite her talent and passion for engineering, Mary is initially denied the opportunity to pursue an engineering degree at an all-white school. In a pivotal scene, Mary seeks permission from a judge to attend night classes at a segregated school, which requires a special court order. The judge, while recognizing her qualifications, challenges Mary’s aspirations, stating that she is “the first, the only” and questions why she would want to “make things difficult.” This example demonstrates the structural racism embedded in educational institutions, where access to opportunities is denied based on race.
    3. Katherine, Mary, and Dorothy each demonstrated remarkable resilience and determination in overcoming the obstacles imposed by white society. Katherine persisted in her work despite the isolation and degradation she faced, and eventually gained recognition for her exceptional mathematical skills, playing a vital role in calculating trajectories for the Friendship 7 mission. Mary overcame the racial barriers by pursuing a court order to attend night classes at a segregated school, eventually becoming NASA’s first African-American female engineer. Dorothy, as a supervisor in the West Area Computers division, taught herself programming and led her team in transitioning to the new IBM computers, positioning them for success in the evolving technological landscape. Through their tenacity, intelligence, and refusal to accept the status quo, these women challenged and triumphed over the systemic barriers that white society placed before them, ultimately paving the way for future generations.

  10. Sanuthi W

    1. The title “Hidden Figures” has multiple layers of meaning for both the film and the time period it portrays. First, it refers to Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, and Katherine Johnson, who were often overlooked and marginalized despite their significant contributions to NASA’s space program. They were the “hidden figures” behind the scenes, working and making crucial calculations while receiving little to no recognition. Additionally, the term also symbolizes the broader context of racial and gender discrimination during that time period, where talented individuals like them were often obscured and ignored due to societal biases. The title encapsulates the untold stories and hidden achievements of these remarkable women.
    2. Jim Crow discrimination had a severe impact on women while working at NASA. They weren’t treated the same as their white peers like when they were forced to use different restrooms than the white women at NASA or had to use a different coffee cup because they aren’t white. Mary was also affected by prejudice when she wasn’t allowed into the room where the engineers worked just because she was a Black woman and she had to fight to even be considered to be let in there. Dorothy also wasn’t allowed to be a supervisor at NASA because she was Black and the rest of her team wasn’t able to work in the normal workforce area also because of that.
    3. Sexism had a significant impact on their careers. They faced various challenges and barriers due to their gender. Dorothy Vaughan, as a supervisor, had to contend with a segregated work environment, where she fought for her team’s recognition. Mary Jackson encountered discrimination when seeking to become an engineer due to racial and gender biases. Katherine Johnson, despite her exceptional mathematical skills, had to overcome sexist attitudes that doubted her abilities. These women’s contributions were undervalued and overshadowed, limiting their professional growth and opportunities. (my actual version i accidentally pressed the wrong button)

  11. Gillian Erickson

    The title “Hidden Figures” in the movie refers to the african american women mathematicians: Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson, who all played crucial roles at NASA during the 1960s space race. In one way, it highlights the literal hiddenness of these women’s contributions, since their work was usually unrecognized because of their gender and race. Their abilities were hidden from the public and criticized because society was still experiencing segregation. Another reason why the movie is called “hidden figures” is that the title refers to the larger theme of the movie, which is to bring attention to the historical figures who have been overlooked from our understanding of significant events. The film exposes the biases and prejudices that have obscured the contributions of marginalized individuals throughout history by shedding light on the untold stories of these remarkable women. Ultimately, “Hidden Figures” signifies the journey of these women from being hidden and underappreciated to being recognized as important figures of science and equality.

    The first aspect of Jim Crow laws I noticed in the film was the segregation of the bathrooms. When black women had to go to the bathroom in the movie they had to go to a building on the other side of the campus of nasa buildings. This made it very difficult to do simple things like going to the bathroom or washing your hands. The second aspect of jim crow that i noticed was when dorothy went to the library with her sons she first, had to sit in the back of the bus, and second, she was escorted from the public library for her skin color and she was accused of stealing, she paid taxes just like everyone else but wasn’t allowed in certain public places.

    Katherine overcame challenges in white society by being the first black woman to be involved in sending a man to space. All her colleagues were white men, except for a white woman who was a secretary of some kind. Katherine went from barely being allowed to look at work done by her colleagues to being the one to solve the math problems that eventually successfully brought Americans into space and back down. Dorothy Vaugn was an expert with programming and computers and managed to use computers better than anyone else in her department. When she was told she couldn’t use the computer by a white worker, he changed his mind after he saw the amazing work she had accomplished on it. She got numbers from the computer that none of the men in nasa had gotten. Lastly, Mary got her diploma from an all white school. She tried to get her college degree in night classes but she was rejected from them because she was a woman and black. She said that she learns just like anyone else in the class. She was the first black student in the school which is an amazing accomplishment.

  12. Jayda Evans

    The title “ Hidden Figures” has many layers to it. Firstly, all of the brilliant black women working as computers for NASA are hidden. No one really acknowledges their existence, but they are there, doing all the work. At the beginning of the movie it shows Katherine when she was young, and we see her naming all of these shapes, and the shapes kind of pop out of the stained glass as she names them. I think the title also stands for the things it takes a certain kind of mind to see. I think it’s showing how these three women in particular are special because their brilliance is neglected.
    One example of Jim Crow discrimination is when Katherine realizes there is no colored bathroom for her in the building she was working in. As a result of this discovery she is forced to run all the way back to her old building where there are bathrooms for her. She has to take all of her things with her so she can work while sitting. One day her boss realizes that she’s leaving work for forty minutes everyday and he confronts her about it in front of the entire office. She explains to him in a passionate monologue that there is no bathroom for her in that building and she must run in her heels and her skirt that is modestly below her knees through rain and shine just to use the restroom. Another example is when the car breaks down at the very beginning of the movie and one of them talks about how if they are tired of the car breaking down they can always sit on the back of the bus.
    Sexism affected the women’s careers because the men didn’t trust them with important information. Paul Stafford would block out all of the information he didn’t trust Katherine with when she was tasked to check his math. He would also tell her that he doesn’t need her checking his work, nd that is had already been approved by other men, so it is pointless to get it checked by her as well.

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