Go/No Go: A Hidden Figures Review
I didn't imagine I would have much to say after I watched Hidden Figures. Not because I thought it wouldn't be good, or because I already knew the herstory (I didn't), but rather because I thought I'd have nothing to add to that sentiment.
Now I expected to learn more about Katherine Goble, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson than I ever knew before; which was easy as I'd never heard of them. And I expected to enjoy Taraji P. Henson (kitchen heat!), Octavia Spencer (sleeper. give this woman mad more jobs!) and Janelle Monae's performances, which I did. (Janelle Monae would have been a better casting choice than Emma Stone for LaLaLand. She's an actual crossover artist).
Sidebar: Hey there, Kirsten Dunst! Why Hollywood sleeping on your ass? They need to bench J.Law and/or Scar.Jo for their own hwhite good (at least for a few games. Maybe even a season) and put ya in. Between The Virgin Suicides, Bring it On, Fargo and your Elsa Ice Queen in this movie you are just ... talented. Plus, you're marrying Landry!! Need I say more, winner?
I anticipated the saccharine moments or the saccharineness (née nostalgia) those that dominate US cinema/culture have about both the 50s and the early days of space travel. And I anticipated the "nicing up" that Hollywood typically does when depicting racist times, racist people and all the other people who tolerated and benefited from structural racism (read: racism).
Two scenes come to mind in relation to the above. Light spoilers ahead*** (Skip to where you see the next *** if you don't want to read spoilers ... but all this did already happen).
Scene Ex.1: Pearl Necklaces
Structural racism allows for you to be an asset to a job or something being done, but not be properly recognized, treated or compensated for the work you contribute due to racist feelings about pigmentation; whether malicious or implicit; and allows for someone who is not your pigmentation to reap all or the majority of the benefits derived from your hard labor (money, accolades, promotion, position, etc.).
One of Taraji/Katherine's big scenes is railing on her boss Al Harrison (played by Kevin Costner. Way to not be in a terrible movie about race and, thus, somewhat redeeming yourself for "Black or White," buddy) about the segregated bathrooms and why she is always taking 40 minute breaks.
In her justified rant, she refers to the sexist dress code that applies to lady "computers" and explains that even though she's working her ass off AND IS VITAL she isn't even being paid enough to exercise the full allowances of the dress code by buying a pearl necklace (what fukhing asshole at NASA made up that exception?).
One of the "awww" moments the movie sets you up to feel is Kevin/Al eventually buying Taraji/Katherine said pearl necklace for all her hard work (that was vital, nobody else around her could do and was responsible for accurately calculating for the United States first citizen orbiting in space without dying in a fiery ball of metal). Let's hash this out.
1. Katherine wasn't only not being paid enough to buy a pearl necklace. She was ...
- a) being paid less than the men around her who she was doing a better job than
- b) being paid less than the men around her whose work she was constantly correcting just to get HER JOB DONE accurately
- c) being paid less than the hwhite/white women around her who were not even mathematicians, engineers or scientists and
- d) being paid less than the hwhite/white women around her who were mathematicians, engineers or scientists AND. WHO. COULD. NOT. DO. HER. JOB.
- * Sidenote: apparently there were no black men, computers or otherwise, at NASA to speak of
2) Katherine was literally the brightest mind they had at NASA to calculate the equations and computations that took John Glenn around the world and back down again safely. Yet she may not have even been paid much more (or any more) than the black janitors (who were certainly making the least money out of everyone at NASA).
3) Feed a muhfuh a fish and they'll eat for one day. Give a muhfuh a raise and they'll budget for their own fish and pearls. Namsayin'?!
How 1 - 3 even a thing though? Even at "that" sexist and racist ass time?!
I mean, this HUMAN—born into ignorance and completely dependent, like any of you or any of us now—is OUTPERFORMING YOU, OUTWITTING YOU, OUTLASTING YOU, JUST STRAIGHT. UP. GREATER. THAN. YOU. AT. YOUR. JOB even though you and your kinsmen/klansmen did damn near everything in your hwhite power to ensure a person such as her would never be considered intelligent, let alone BE INTELLIGENT
And ... you ain't at all moved enough to give this extraordinary human being an office, a charity, a medal or a lifetime contract, you hwhite/white, Anglo-Saxon, cis-gender male persons in power of NASA in 1962?
ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED? What a genius gotta do to impress the shit out of you AND get a raise tho? Just not be a black person? The fukh is wrong with you humanity?!
But, okay. This is history, not fiction. So plot holes are the kind of oversights the future must forgive. Humans obviously aren't the best at third person omniscient narration or storytelling. And, apparently, Existence only wishes to work in the props department of this Life on Earth production.
So I guess our species is just gonna have to become better storytellers so ourstory (née history) doesn't age like shit. Like more shit than has already been happened ...
Scene Ex.2: Salty Hwhite Tear Buckets
The bathroom sign scene. Sigh. AND it still managed to be appropriating. Yes, you can appropriate a melanin-having person's moment as well as their culture (I'm talking to you, too, Macklemore).
Why did the film make that scene about Kevin/Al? Why is he at the center of that narrative and shot with the constant panning to the black lady computers and then the random group of hwhite people who obviously never stepped foot in that building before or probably ever? (And yes, I do have a better focused scene in my head for how this portrayal should have gone down, but this post is already getting long so ... another time).
Tearing down a discriminatory sign doesn't get you a cookie or a pat on the back, Hwhite America Vespucci!
*** SPOILERS OVA!
You don't get to feel good about ceasing the fukhing up of other humans lives just because you FINALLY got over your ego ass self enough to see that, hmmm, maybe oppressing people is an indication of moral dehydration.
YOU ALREADY AIN'T HOLD NO WATER WITH ALL THAT BULLSHIT. All you get to do is feel less bad about it (yes, really. It's better than just being terrible human people). Until, until, you have dedicated all the years of your life to eradicating the racism that your ancestors built up and left for you to inherit.
That's just your actual hwhite ass burden and I suggest you get familiar with it. Lean in to your true inheritance, Hwhite America Vespucci! #itsyoursforthetaking #reallyitis
Once you've dedicated your entire life to eradicating the problems stemming from racism and racism itself, then—and only then do—you get to feel good about yourself in regards to your place and role in race relations in this world.
Please do not imagine that just because your privilege hasn't broken people of color completely that we are somehow "feeling better about ourselves" than you are being encouraged to. Currently it sucks for all of us. Everyone in this world is being held back, but by some zen-master method of obliviousness ya'll hwhite people haven't caught the feels yet. #getwithus and #catchup. We want you with us, okay?
And yes, it's probably true that even after dedicating your whole life to eradicating racism and the privileges that stem from it, that savory guilt-free moment of feeling "white is right" is only likely to present itself when you are on your death bed; at least for the next three generations (I'm an optimist) of hwhite people, white people and even caucasians. But hey, that is better than slavery. So you're still getting the carrot end of the stick.
I'm not suggesting that ya'll will be the only ones working, either. "People of Color" been working. #weouthere. Erryday we doing something for hwhite/white people's education about the rest of the world that's not them; it's called surviving, living, thriving and communicating CONTINUOUSLY despite colonialism, invasion, exploitation, murder, oppression, rape, pillaging, marginalization, sterilization, stigmatization, slavery and racism.
Also by making YouTube videos about this for your easy reference. (You can find these things out live or pre-recorded. Think ahead).
People of Color (which includes caucasians) do the above not only for the culture, but for freedom of culture in general. And guess what? It sucks for us too to have to continue to harp on this conversation. But you just ain't carrying your weight, Hwhite/White America Vespucci. And it's about time you do. For the culture as well.
Now, what I didn't anticipate was how watching Hidden Figures would connect serendipitously with a stream of thought I had been marinating on during this week. That is: the killing of ideas.
Katherine, Dorothy and Mary were anomalies because of a system designed to keep them from their interests. They were anomalies because of a society shaped to not only exclude them (though use them), but also because of a society designed to prevent them from having access to the benefits of modern day developments, ideas and conversations.
This was done purposefully and systematically despite the fact that the very society that did it, United States of America Vespucci society, was ONLY MADE POSSIBLE by clamoring on the backs of and riding Katherine, Dorothy and Mary's ancestors TO DEATH.
Yet, this story is about three feminices of many who were so talented they could not be kept from their ideas. And because they could not be kept from their ideas, we as a society were not kept from a particular kind of progress.
To me, this is one of the most amazing aspects of human culture: we make ideas into matter, into ways of being and into reality. But no human should have to be a genius or possess super-strength resilience or willpower in order to contribute the fruits of their uniqueness to society.
We often foster ideas better than we do our own species, whether those ideas are for good or for ill. And when people are left unmolested to follow the trajectory of their curiosities, amazing, unspeakable and previously unfathomable things are made possible.
When we oppress people so that only some humans can get ahead, we fall further away from succeeding at achieving the impossible. When we kill people, we also murder not only their ideas, but the unique way in which only they can arrive at them. When we allow abuses of humanity to propagate, we limit ourselves and we hold back our progress as a species.
How many Katherine Gobles, Dorothy Vaughans and Mary Jacksons are wasting away in work camps in North Korea right now? How many Albert Einsteins are dying from dehydration in the Sudan? How many Steve Jobs' are working for less than minimum wage on the farms of California? How many Martin Luther King Jr.'s are simply trying to survive the slums in Brazil?
Humans often despair before trying everything within their (will)power to achieve their desired ends. Humans are also very easily distracted by topical and surface conditions.
Humans are less able to let go of their egos and the prejudiced, disconnected presumptions that stem from them.
Yet, humans are innovative. And, by god, we are persistent. Why not let each other live unmolested and see what becomes of us then? We've actually never done that and we have no good reasons why we haven't.