Hidden Figures I think we can all agree, was an absolutely brilliant film. As I’m not anything close to a movie critic, I’m not assessing the acting, the costume or whatever else movie critics assess and determine to award a one star or a five. But even if I were looking for loopholes, I’m sure it’d be a decent struggle to find huge ones.
The brilliance of the movie for me, is simply in the story. In the fact that these excellent and pioneering women existed & up till now we had never heard of them. Clearly they’d been hidden from us. The brilliance of the movie for me was also demonstrated by the fact that my husband didn’t sleep while watching it (trust me that’s a correlation to how good a movie is). And more particularly right after the movie he said to me “Now I’m going to spend all night researching these ladies”. I wasn’t surprised because those were my exact plans. You were likely to leave the cinema wanting to know more about the lives of these iconic women!
I wasn’t exactly planning to write a recap of lessons learnt – because I’d seen a few on the web. But then someone specifically asked what lessons I had drawn from the movie. Again, as I always preach everyone’s experience is unique, so why not!
But before I share mine, let me share the hilarious one lesson Tee definitely picked up. Shortly after the movie he said to me “I probably need to chew more gum or find something that’s such a unique fun thing that stands me out…”
Obviously you know why he said so. Asides the ladies (for obvious reasons) the head of NASA, Al Harrison was our fave character. There was just something about him and his chewing gum habit made you remember him! Tee was pretty serious, as a few days later, when I bought some regular chewing gum and offered him some, he jokingly seriously asked why I didn’t buy the type Al used to chew. But on a serious note, I’m not asking you to make an allowance in your budget for your daily chewing gum intake. But I think it could help if there’s that one fun thing people know you for – the human & personal in you sort of that’s endearing. Could be your hair, dressing, your laugh. Anything. Don’t get too stuck up. I’ve heard of someone who wears a fun coloured quirky brooch to work everyday. Everyone knows her! I have no idea what mine is, but I will be looking!
Okay now to my own lessons. I’ll keep them short!
We Must Strive to Constantly Improve
One of my fave parts was when Dorothy realised that the new IBM computers could put her and her ladies out of work and decided to get a head start by studying FORTRAN and how to use the computers and we all know how that saved an entire team! Many times, we slack on improving and almost choose to rest on old laurels & achievements. That ain’t gonna cut it. There’s always always room for improvement & we need to constantly go in search of that.
A Strong Support System is Compulsory
This cannot for anything be over-emphasized! If you look at people who succeed, many times they have a great support network. From family, to friends. In Hidden Figures we see this almost throughout the movie. From the early beginnings when Katherine’s teachers supported her and insisted she go on to further her education.
The choice of a life partner for women is such an important decision & whether this person supports you, could make or mar. I keep thinking what would have happened if their husbands did not literally have their backs. We see how Katherine initially almost shunned James for looking down on what she did and saying “they let women handle that sort of thing?” And how Mary Jackson’s husband’s approval and support was key when she decided to get her Engineering degree.
Asides spouses, Katherine’s mum was super helpful! The scene that struck was when the whole team was gonna have to work late and Al said “okay, call your wives & let them know”. A part of me wondered if Katherine was going to quit at that point (& more so if he sort of expected her to). Thank God for her mum who could hold the fort. And their church too was sending positive vibes their way! Oh & let’s not forget Mary Jackson’s polish friend who encouraged her that she could be an engineer! We need a strong support system & positive vibes around us – and we gotta do all we can to positively find it!
It’s Okay to be the First
Many times we shy away from doing stuff & our excuse is “no one has done it before”. Well someone has to start, hello! Mary Jackson’s speech to the judge when she requested to be the first person of colour to attend an all white school, pretty much said it all. We have to try & the fact that it’s never been done before should be the more reason why! Also there was the bit where Katherine wasn’t allowed to enter the meeting where the space projections were bring discussed because, “there was no protocol for a female attending”. Her response was pretty obvious “there’s no protocol for sending a man to the moon either”. We need to start somewhere!
I think many times we have great thoughts, opinions and ideas in our minds, but fail to speak up and so they remain in our minds bearing absolutely zero fruit and leading to zero changes. You’d have noticed throughout the movie that many times these ladies spoke up . From Dorothy constantly asking about her promotion to Supervisor to Katherine taking the initiative, writing down her thoughts & mathematical calculations without any prompting – which eventually got her noticed; to speaking up about the inconvenience of having to run miles just to pee. In the work place particularly, ladies are often less inclined to speak but feel that people should automatically notice them or their feelings. Hardly works. We have to speak up!
One Person Can Bring Change
We often think it takes a gazillion people to make impressive changes. And maybe sometimes it does. But a little change, by just one person in their immediate environment can have far far reaching effect. One of my absolute fave scenes was when Al (told you he was our fave guy!) knocked down the signs of the toilets for coloured people & peeled off the label from the kettle meant only for Katherine. I mean, segregation had been lawfully banned in Virginia at that time. But it was still technically in practice and no one could bat an eyelid. It took the courage of this one gentle man to bring that change in the whole of NASA. You may be just one person, but don’t think you can’t be significant. You know what they say “if you think you’re too tiny to make an impact, ask the mosquito!”
Girls Need Girlfriends who support
Someone once said women who don’t support other women are marked for condemnation! Obviously that’s super extreme & uncalled for. But I think it’s such a beautiful thing when women genuinely support one another – particularly because there’s this general belief that the opposite is the case and women are more competitive & bitchy towards themselves. So it was great to see Dorothy drag her entire team along with her in using the IBM computers.
It was great to see them ride together to and from work & wait for Katherine who worked late on a couple of occasions. It was great to see them share a bottle of wine & dance together. And how can we forget that Dorothy & Mary literally played Cupid for Katherine & Jim. So whether professional or personally it’s important to have girlfriends who support!
Find a Boss who Believes in You!
Paul Stafford, who Katherine had to report to was pretty much a jerk! And could have ruined her career giving her zero credit if he had his way. But thank goodness for our favourite guy Al! Even with all the best talent, and support network, a horrible boss could absolutely mar your progress. Al was supportive, believed in her, listened and was even such a friend – despite his tough exterior. How cute was it that he arranged for a pearl necklace present for Katherine when she got married.
Second Chance at Love & Blended Families
The mushy romantic in me absolutely loved the fact that Katherine found love again! And the beauty of it all – they shared 52 years of their lives together. That’s way more than many many married people can boast off. And to think this was her second marriage plus she already had three kids. It stood out to me and I think it’s a great lesson for people hoping for second chances or who may have missed out on love the first time, or for single mothers. You can still have many many beautiful years with another!
The Power of Story Telling
Finally, we can share all of this, because someone decided to do loads of research & share the story. It’s super important that we tell our stories – of triumphs & failures; successes & struggles. Stories endure for generations and have much more impact that we often not envisage. Its ripple effect is amazing – in helping people learn & live. I clearly left that theatre feeling much more empowered. So whatever your story is, I hope you decide to share more often – in whatever form is best suited to you.
Finally, we couldn’t help but notice the fact that the events in this movie happened in the 60s. That’s fairly recent, yet racism was still a huge deal. Obviously because I live in the UK now, I’m more aware of the need for accepting diversity and our differences; and I think it’s one we should consciously strive for avoiding even the slightest form of bias & discrimination.
The end! That wasn’t as short as I hoped. But maybe that’s my own chewing gum kind of thing? The one who can’t write a short blog post!
I’m pretty sure there’s a lot more lessons we can pick up – e.g. How it’s helpful for women to be able to go under their car and fix the basics. Yes?
What lessons did you pick from the movie? Oh & what’s your chewing gum identity? Haha!