Hidden Costs

30 01 2017

hidden-figures

January 30, 2017

I loved the movie, Hidden Figures, about the role of African American women mathematicians in the drama of NASA’s space program. A cleverly titled, extraordinary depiction of a specific era and place in history, the movie highlighted three distinct women, their families, and circumstances.

  • Katherine, brilliant in math and focused on her work, is as sweet and nerdy as they come. We cheer as this hard worker is rewarded both at work and home. She can’t help but think in math terms; I have an acquaintance who is similar with poetry. Recently, this friend found snow in her pocket, and wrote a parody, In the Early Morning Snow, on her drive to help me shovel.
  • Dorothy is the viewer of the future, the one who sees the imminent ending of her Colored Computers Department and takes the initiative to prepare for the next step by teaching herself how to program IBM computers. When she realizes her original product will be obsolete, she adapts, something I’ve often wondered about travel agents or the makers of pagers or camera film, calculators or ice boxes. It takes a certain type of vision and creativity to see what’s coming and figure out how to stay ahead of the pack.
  • Mary Jackson demonstrates individual strength to reach a dream that is out of legal reach by working the system, doing her homework, and persevering. Her mentor, a Holocaust survivor, encourages Mary to take whatever steps she must to accomplish her vision. In her efforts to get permission to take extension classes at an all-white school to become an engineer, she taps into the judge’s personal experience and human nature to become a first.

Based on participants’ recollection and tons (literally) of documents, Margot Lee Shetterly, the author of the book that inspired the movie, provides a striking reminder of the difference one individual can make. Al Harrison, director of the prestigious Space Task Group, desegregated the restrooms and coffee pot single-handedly.  He appeared as someone who, with some prodding, put goals over formality. Likewise, John Glenn is depicted as an enthusiastic, open person who recognized and valued the true source of the calculations that would determine if he returned to Earth or not.

For many years, these women’s contribution went unnoticed and, through this book and movie, we see how difficult it was for them to fully utilize their talents. I think about the hidden costs of not using people and their available strengths because of some personal bias. When we are unaware of a resource, it’s possibly excusable to waste time or money. But to intentionally bypass someone’s potential to contribute defeats us all. We are a country built on the strengths of many, from its inception to the present day. ‘Tis a good lesson to remember now, if you get my “hidden” meaning.

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12 responses

30 01 2017
Susan Scott

Have FB’d it Beth – will look out for the film, hopefully it gets here to SA. Hidden meaning loud and clear – thanks for bringing it out 🙂

30 01 2017
Beth Lapin

Thank you!

30 01 2017
Sioux

I absolute ❤ this movie….I just wish it would have come out while John Glenn was still alive, but its so great to have another truth uncovered about the value of women and people of color!

30 01 2017
Beth Lapin

I too was sad that John Glenn didn’t see the public support for this movie.

30 01 2017
James F. Epperson

The book is also very good—my spouse got it for me at Christmas and I devoured it in about a week (now she’s reading it). There is a lot more detail in the book, of course.

30 01 2017
Beth Lapin

Did you find that the movie did the book justice? Curious, as I generally like the book better than the movie..

30 01 2017
James F. Epperson

The movie was written from a 50-page book proposal (I got that from an online article), although the author is, I think, credited as part of the screenwriting team. I think it does do the book justice. There is a lot of interesting backstory that is of course left out of the movie—for example, Dorothy Vaughan knew Katherine when the latter was a child (Vaughan’s husband and Katherine’s father were doormen at the Greenbrier resort in West Virginia). The business about Katherine having to run across campus to find a “colored” rest room is, in fact, true. I’m not sure there was the “explosion” over it, though; she just started using the women’s restroom and nobody made a fuss about it. Costner’s character is a hybrid of several people, and I don’t think he ever took a sledgehammer to a “colored” sign, but early in Dorothy Vaughan’s time at Langley, there was a table in the cafeteria with a sign indicating this is where the “colored computers” were allowed to sit. They’d steal the sign, someone would make a new one, they’d steal that one, rinse and repeat. Eventually the sign disappeared permanently. The evolution of NASA from NACA was interesting. (Dorothy Vaughan started working there in 1943.)

FWIW, I had a summer job a Langley in 1978. You didn’t learn anything about this story. It just wasn’t really known about. The author’s “Prologue” to the book is fascinating.

1 02 2017
Beth Lapin

Thanks for those tidbits. How we choose to share history and remember it is always so fascinating!

30 01 2017
Robb

I also enjoyed the movie. Comments here make me want to read the book. Seeing the movie reminded me of all the past injustices that have been inflicted on certain groups of individuals and also what is happening today to other groups. It seems we are slow to learn from our past experiences. Sad.

1 02 2017
Beth Lapin

Yes, history seems to repeat itself…interestingly, when I re-read my journals, I find the same thing with myself! I think I learn something significant about myself, and then discover that I “learned” it years ago!!

30 01 2017
Carole Cone

I enjoyed your blog, and I enjoyed the movie. Seems like just another slice of American history that we never knew. The courage displayed in that movie was perfect for the times we are living in now.

1 02 2017
Beth Lapin

You wonder how many other hidden slices there are!

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