Tonight I went to see a UK preview of this amazing film #hiddenfigures with a friend. It tells the 1960s story of a team of African-American women mathematicians who served a vital role in NASA during the early years of the US space program.
These three women Katherine G. Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) fought race and gender prejudice to help get John Glenn into orbit. Back then, only white males worked in the engineering rooms.
Shocking how imbalanced the educated workplace was ‘in the past’? It was only 55 years ago. Yet, even today only 2% of engineers are black women and only 1% are computer scientists. We still have a LONG way to go in 2017.
My favourite moments
I loved seeing the ‘Colored Washrooms’ sign smashed to the ground by Al, who said that in NASA everyone’s pee is the same colour. Then desegregated a coffee pot. I kid you not. He was a relatively brave leader to stand against the status quo.
If you want everyone to work for the common goal, you need to breakthrough barriers and recognise those who created the solution.
It was superb seeing how Katharine convinced her boss Al Harrison (Kevin Costner) to take her into the Pentagon board room so she could hear what daily changes would impact her calculations. Everyone was shocked to see a black woman in the room and stunned to see her calculate a landing position on a blackboard, live!
If you don’t ask, you don’t get.
Back then, the black women were the human computers, calculating everything by hand. But the IBM Mainframe computer threatened their jobs, so Dorothy secretly learns Fortram to teach her team. Then when the dumb IBM engineers get a bit stuck setting up a 30m2 room with the computer, she quietly tinkers and gets it all working.
To show her leadership, she convinces NASA to let her bring her whole team with her. Selfless guts!
I highly recommend this film. Watch the trailer then go see it.
I hope with all my heart that we can keep bridging the gaps between communities and not build walls.