Hidden Figures

Categories: Local Voices

Sitting there doing my popcorn thing at the Monrovia Krikorian, what I saw up on the screen actually brought some tears to my eyes.

So on January 21, the day after the Presidential Inauguration, I needed something positive; maybe something as unlikely on a long, dark day as…inspiration.

Since November 8, even my body had been rejecting the election results. And as January 20 approached, the headaches and teeth clenching just got worse. To put things in perspective, I hadn’t clenched my teeth at night or had a headache since January 4, 2006; the night USC somehow lost the BCS Football Championship to Texas.

So I saw a movie. I saw Hidden Figures.

Hidden Figures tells the biographical story of three African American women working as mathematicians at NASA during the 60s. And in spite of having to overcome all the odds presented by a lingering Jim Crow and sexist culture at NASA, the three women succeed…as did the U.S. space program, our competition with the Russia, and the social struggle to, at least at NASA, realize all of us are better than some of us.

As I was sitting there doing my popcorn thing at the Monrovia Krikorian, what I saw up on the screen actually brought some tears to my eyes. I’m still not sure whether it was pride, joy, frustration, or sadness; probably everything?

There was the pride in being an American, just like those three incredibly determined, brilliant, and courageous women. There was also pride in the American spirit coming from a few men who in the words of Robert F. Kennedy could “…dream things that never were and say, why not.” What an amazing place that could be home for women like Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn, and Mary Jackson. There was equal pride in the visionary leadership of President Kennedy and the other-worldly confidence and courage of the Mercury astronauts and, in particular, John Glenn.

The joy was in the results and the budding opportunity for inclusiveness, a supposed American core value. You could see why America could be great…maybe even a model for humankind.

The film presented a snapshot of the decades-long struggle for racial and gender equality and fairness. The frustration is the current day notion of “Making America Great Again.” As if we weren’t being great electing the first African American President only eight years ago and selecting an intelligent, thoughtful, inclusive leader who guided the nation out of economic disaster and practiced American principles written into the Constitution, of which he is a scholar.

And lastly, as the credits were running, I was sad. What happened yesterday? Were almost half of the voters just pretending about stuff like liberty and justice for all? It seemed like Thursday night the Constitution and the American values of fairness and decency were hijacked by a driver who’d never read the document.

After having shared two hours of pride and ultimately joy with other movie goers, it was like the truth, dignity, and intelligence I’d just seen on the screen were just some ideas expressed in a fable that had been washed away in the rain.

Today didn’t feel real; if only that were true.

But I, for one, have always preached to my co-workers that to error is human and inevitable; and from mistakes, come the opportunity for change.

When I got home and took to social media, I saw millions of women protesting “Making America Great Again” and the possible end of growing racial, gender, and sexual preference understanding and acceptance. Talk about inspiring.

And I’m willing to bet that 98-year old Katherine Johnson, former NASA Physicist/Mathematician and 2015 recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, was watching…and smiling too.