Film Review: Hidden Figures

Published: 2021/11/11
Number of words: 2464

Hidden Figures is a 2016 film directed by Theodore Melfi and starring Viola Davis and Regina King. The film is based on the untold real tale of three African American female NASA employees, Katherine Gobels Johnson, Mary Jackson, Dorothy Vaughan, and their segregation. This film is set in the 1960s. Throughout the film, Katherine, Mary, and Dorothy encounter many difficulties as they advance in their various professions while dealing with prejudice and segregation from their white colleagues. Throughout the film, the women face numerous challenges, like using a colored restroom on the opposite side of NASA in a separate building. They also fight to attend an all-white school to get the schooling they need to progress in their profession, finding it hard to be promoted as a superior, and many more. Katherine, Mary, and Dorothy encounter many difficulties due to their ethnicity and gender, both at an organizational and individual level. This article will go further into the plot and events of Hidden Figures, analyzing them through the lens of three gender ideas. Gender stereotypes in the workplace, gender and success in the workplace, and the intersections of gender and racial discrimination are all examples of gender ideas. I will also talk about how these three gender ideas influence people and how they see their jobs.

The narrative of Hidden Figures follows three African American women as they try to break down gender preconceptions, particularly at NASA, where they are employed. It occurred between the 1940s and the 1960s, and it took place shortly before the 1964 Civil Rights Act was passed (Davies and Thomas 480). This is a real tale. In her book Gender in the Workplace: A Case Study Approach, J DeLaat discusses how the 1964 Civil Rights Act impacted the second women’s movement, allowing more women to pursue higher education and work in formerly male-dominated professional areas. The second women’s movement also had an impact on other federal laws, such as the requirement that “all educational institutions receiving federal funds treat men and women in the same manner.” (13). Gender segregation began to decrease for the first time in the 1900s as a result of these developments. Hidden Figures demonstrates this gradual shift in how women are treated throughout the film. The main protagonists and other women characters are held to a different standard as the film progresses. Throughout the first act of Hidden Figures, the viewer witnesses the three major characters — Kathrine Gobels, Mary Jackson, and Dorothy Vaughan — struggle against one another as they attempt to improve their professions at NASA. In addition to other employees and their families, they must deal with their judgment and other difficulties. The following scene occurs during a church picnic: Mary Jackson eats lunch with her children and her husband, who tells their son to eat some vegetables while placing some vegetables on the son’s plate. For instance, at 33:44, there is a scenario where Mary Jackson is eating lunch with her children and her husband, who tells their son to eat some vegetables while placing some vegetables on the son’s plate. The husband then remarks to Mary, saying that they should know to eat their veggies and grow up to be well-mannered young people if she were parenting the children. In the next conversation, he informs Mary that there is no such thing as a female engineer and that there is no sense in pursuing a career in engineering. Despite her husband’s advice, Mary persists in pursuing higher education and eventually becomes the first African-American female engineer. There are many moments in the film when Katherine, Mary, and Dorothy are confronted with various difficulties, like being told that they should stay at home with the children or that they are unable to continue their professions since it has never been done before.

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Another way gender inequality is portrayed in the film is via the workplace environment and the disconnection of men and women who work at the space agency NASA. Throughout the video, we observe many guys working in the main office, doing computations and conducting various mathematical studies. Throughout the film, we get a peek into the women’s main office, responsible for administration, paperwork, and many other office responsibilities. Katherine finally breaks through this barrier when she joins the guys in the main office and takes on the role of an analyst. Men criticize her while she works alongside them; they get competitive with her, telling her that their work is right and not trusting her to look over their work before they submit it to her. “One gender of colleagues may create an environment or working dynamic that effectively excludes the other,” DeLaat (14-15) describes this behavior. For instance, men frequently express concern about the entry of women into their professions for various reasons, such as fear of increased competition and a deterioration in the prestige of the job. Also, there is the need to improve organizational culture and language or the concern that women will not do their fair share. As a result, some males believe they have a vested interest in keeping women out of their workplace and act on that belief. As seen in Hidden Figures, the office males hesitate to accept Katherine as a team member since she works alongside them.

Another gender issue highlighted in Hidden Figures is how women’s accomplishments are viewed and handled differently from men’s achievements. Throughout the film, Dorothy Vaughan strives to advance her career and become a department head. For instance, at 12:09, Dorothy speaks with Mrs. Mitchel about her application for the supervisor’s position to the “black group,” and she informs Mrs. Mitchel that she is responsible for all of the duties associated with the position of supervisor. On the other hand, the accomplishment is dismissed by Mrs. Mitchel, who informs Dorothy that they are not seeking a permanent supervisor for the “black group.” Later in the film, at 27:27, Dorothy expresses her dissatisfaction to Mary and Katherine, informing them that she has not missed a single day of work or called in unwell during the last decade. Even so, NASA refuses to recognize Dorothy’s efforts and accomplishments during her tenure and will not endorse her. Dorothy is treated in this manner due to her ethnicity and gender, but we witness the same treatment of other female characters, including the protagonist. Apart from Mrs. Mitchel, there are no other female administrators or bosses shown in the film. Both African Americans and white work as secretaries in the office or in the basement, where they are completely unnoticed by the men. Men are assigned to all of the positions in the office that have responsibility and influence, except for one. J Lester discusses interactions that take place at work that promote gender segregation and impact promotions and methods of rewarding work accomplishments, among other things (183). According to Lester, “Social interactions may be both subtle and obvious.” (183). Subtle encounters include the expectations of both masculinity and femininity characteristics to be shown. Accordingly, women may feel alienated by their colleagues, encounter threatening conduct from their students, and get unjust treatment in tenure and promotion evaluations.” Women are evaluated in various ways than males, for example, based on their appearance and how they portray themselves. While males frequently judge a female job, their accomplishments and efforts are generally viewed differently by the general public.

Besides the gender prejudice and discrimination we observe in the film, we also see much racial inequality and prejudice. At 1: 01: 43, Katherine approaches Mr. Harrison about her restroom issue, informing him that she must go to the opposite side of campus to use the women of a color lavatory. She also informs Mr. Harrison about the obnoxious coffee pot in the office. She is forbidden from using since she is a woman of color, and the other males in the workplace do not want her accessing their belongings. While Hidden Figures depicts racism and discrimination against women in the workplace during the 1960s, it also highlights the intersections of race and gender. Women of color, according to Kimberlé Crenshaw, are frequently caught between numerous oppressive systems characterized by race, gender, and financial structures without being acknowledged for the different opportunities they have at the interconnection of these frameworks.” (32) Hidden Figures emphasizes the intersectionality of Katherine, Mary, and Dorothy’s lives since they were all women of color. Gender segregation and racism were significant obstacles to their employment, and women were often prejudiced against as a result of both. To illustrate, at 1:10:49, Mary Jackson enters a courtroom to attend a white school and acquire the education she needs to become a female engineer. A few minutes after persuading a judge that she should be allowed to attend school, the class instructor informs Mary that the class was not intended to educate women. His actions demonstrate his disapproval of her attending his class since she is a woman. In these sequences, we witness Mary’s prejudice as a result of her being an African American woman who aspires to become the first African American female engineer, as shown in the film.

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A significant amount of racial and gender discrimination occurred in the workplace and other aspects of daily life in the 1960s, as depicted in the motion picture Hidden Figures (Eveline and Booth 560). In his explanation, DeLaat points out that since then, gender discrimination has decreased, and professions that were previously dominated by one gender are beginning to see more equal numbers of people from both genders operating in these professions (10). Gender inequality, on the other hand, has not ceased from the workplace. In the workplace, there are still social norms and discrimination against women of different genders. Throughout the book, Lester discusses the many ways in which gender segregation is still prevalent in the workplace (182). Many activities, such as pay, maternity benefits, promotions, and other opportunities, reflect gender disparity in the workplace. Employment standards and regulations that affect the gender expression of female employees are still in place. They include finding it challenging for women to move up the ladder, take maternity leave, and be paid on par with men, even though they may have had similar or identical educational experiences and be paid less than men. Young adults just starting in their careers are frequently taken aback by the level of gender segregation that exists in the workplace today. DeLaat (9) notes about Faith Daniels, a news reporter, and her first professional experience after graduating from college, which she describes in detail. In her statement, DeLaat claims that she was treated fairly in every aspect of her undergraduate mass media studies (9). She was an honors student nurtured by a highly qualified professor who completed a valuable practicum in television and entered the job market with self-assurance. She had applied for a news reporter at a local television station and was looking forward to receiving the phone call informing her that she had been hired. When the call came in, the manager apologized and stated that they did not believe she would work out in front of the camera. On the other hand, the’ weather bunny was something they felt she’d be excellent. This anecdote serves as an excellent illustration of the kinds of gender stereotypes that still exist in the modern workplace. In addition to the gender segregation that persists in different professions, there is also racial inequality. In their book, R.L. Kaufman (1-2) explores discriminatory practices in the workplace due to one’s race. Kaufman discusses how this works “The likelihood of receiving an interview was lower for black candidates compared to their white peers. If they were given an interview, it was likely that it would be brief and hear more negative remarks. In addition, they were more likely to be turned down for jobs and to be steered toward less desirable positions.” (2) Additionally, Black applicants with criminal backgrounds were less likely to be contacted for a second interview than white applicants with a felony conviction. Between the 1940s and the 1960s, the film Hidden Figures depicts both women and African-Americans’ sexist and racist treatment. Although this type of unfair treatment has declined in our modern society, gender bias and racial discrimination continue to exist in our workplaces today (Wright 349). Many workers will be able to relate to the true story depicted in the film.

Hidden Figures is the unsung real tale of three African American women, Katherine Gobel Johnson, Mary Jackson, and Dorothy Vaughan, and their difficulties as they progress in their professions at the United States Space Administration. The ladies are subjected to these difficulties as a result of their gender and ethnicity. Through the course of the video, we see the application of sexist stereotypes in the workforce. For reasons such as gender, arithmetic, mathematics, office, and documentation, men and women are segregated in distinct offices and have different occupations. We also observe how men’s and women’s accomplishments and hard work are seen and reacted to differently. Women are evaluated based on their appearance and demeanor in the office, while males are evaluated based on their accomplishments and labor. To conclude, the film depicts a great deal of sexual and social prejudice and the interconnectedness of the two issues. We watch as Katherine, Mary, and Dorothy struggle to advance in their professions while dealing with prejudice based on their race as African American women. Although Hidden Figures takes place between the 1940s and the 1960s, and even though gender inequality and prejudice in the workplace have substantially decreased, they are still prevalent worldwide. Hidden Figures demonstrates how far we have gone in terms of women’s and ethnic labor rights, but it also demonstrates how far we still have to go in terms of equality.

Works Cited

Davies, Annette, and Robyn Thomas. “Gendering and Gender in Public Service Organizations: Changing Professional Identities Under New Public Management.” Public Management Review, vol. 4, no. 4, 2002, pp. 461–84. Crossref, doi:10.1080/14616670210163024.

DeLaat, Jacqueline. Gender in the Workplace: A Case Study Approach. Sage Publications, Inc., 2007.

Eveline, Joan, and Michael Booth. “Gender and Sexuality in Discourses of Managerial Control: The Case of Women Miners.” Gender, Work and Organization, vol. 9, no. 5, 2002, pp. 556–78. Crossref, doi:10.1111/1468-0432.00175.

Kaufman, Robert. Race, Gender, and the Labor Market: Inequalities at Work. Lynne Rienner Pub, 2010.

Lester, Jaime. “Performing Gender in the Workplace.” Community College Review, vol. 35, no. 4, 2008, pp. 277–305. Crossref, doi:10.1177/0091552108314756.

Melfi, Theodore. “Hidden Figures.” Youtube, uploaded by Twentieth Century Fox, 16 Nov. 2016,

O′Connor, Karen. Gender and Women′s Leadership: A Reference Handbook. 1st ed., SAGE Publications, Inc, 2010.

Wright, Tessa. “Women’s Experience of Workplace Interactions in Male-Dominated Work: The Intersections of Gender, Sexuality and Occupational Group.” Gender, Work & Organization, vol. 23, no. 3, 2015, pp. 348–62. Crossref, doi:10.1111/gwao.12074.

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