Hidden Figures: Gender, Race, and the Fallacy of the “American Dream”

Hidden Figures: Gender, Race, and the Fallacy of the “American Dream”

Hidden figures, is a movie about three African-American women: Katherine Johnson (Taraji Henson), Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae), and Dorothy Vaughn (Oc

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Hidden figures, is a movie about three African-American women: Katherine Johnson (Taraji Henson), Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae), and Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer); and their struggle with race and gender as they navigate their paths in the NASA program at a time set in the sixties.

I had already seen more than enough reviews on it (all positive by the way), to have built heightened expectations on it. And so when I finally got the chance, I made a tough decision to go see it alone. I wanted no distractions, not petty chats, I didn’t even get popcorn and soda cos I felt noise from my own chewing could potentially make me miss important dialogues.

And so off I set, without a potential suitor in hand, no “established” suitor either, and no chatty girlfriends either. And believe it or not, I went with a notepad in hand…I kid you not! Without much ado, I would in this review highlight four key issues that spoke to me. By reiterating them here, I am convinced they would be equally relevant to you.

1. White Women and “Race”

I think we have for far too long been a little “unfair” to the White man by putting sole responsibility of the horror of racism on him. So far, my brief experience in America lets me believe that the “compliance” of White women, usually clad in their “silence” and/or “loyalty” to their men could be weighed on the same scale as the “machinations” of the White man over the last 1000 years in history.

We all know that saying, “ Silence means consent,” right? In Hidden Figures, while blatant sexism appeared normalized in the sixties, White women seemed to have found a little solace in their “Whiteness” because that alone made them realize, that even though it was frustrating to be a woman, whenever they looked “down,” they knew they were a lot better than “colored” women.

This is one basic reason that confirms the perception that the Black woman is the most disrespected being on earth! Who does she have at the bottom of the human race ladder to feel superior to?….None! And so while the White woman only has to tackle sexism or patriarchy, the Black woman has to deal with and try to overcome both sexism and racism.

I have been contemplating jumping on board the upcoming women’s march in the entire country and this movie confirmed my reluctance. I do not see myself as having shared goals with the White feminists I meet both physically and virtually because history, recent events, and personal lived experiences have shown me that the White woman has a greater loyalty and it is never for her fellow womankind, but for her race.

In Hidden Figures, I still can’t get over how “Okay” White women were with the norm of sexism, that it took Black women to push, push and push hard even way past White women to get to the top. I am convinced the Western Feminist movement would not be where it is now without the reality of the Black woman. That but for the Black woman, White women would never have become aware of their own prejudices. We still have a long way to go!

2. Portrayal of Black men

One very positive feature of the movie was the portrayal of Black men. For once, I saw Black men play very “unusual” roles it felt like they were a new breed of human beings. Now why is that? It appears the normalized images of Black men as absent fathers, abusive fathers, unemployed fathers, promiscuous men, drug dealers, convicts, and the host of “more desirable roles” mainstream media churns out there have had a huge impact, even on me.

However, in Hidden figures, I saw Black men as loving, supportive and faithful husbands and gentlemen. It was almost too good to be true, that I almost embarrassed myself. I did still look around to make sure no one heard me say to myself, “Lawd gi’me some of that!!!!”

“Representation” matters, and this article is a humble plea for us to balance the stories out there on the Black man. Black men are more than their fearful tattoos, and misaligned strength and bravery.

3. The Looming Danger of Male Feminists

The movie introduces us to a widowed Katherine Johnson (Taraji) with three beautiful daughters. Very early on, one of the fine chocolate men I drooled over in the point above showed interest in her. He was a gallant army man she met at church (Good Lawd I can never get over him!!!). He was a gentleman every regard but even he, wasn’t aware of his internalized sexism.

Therefore, in very harmless and passing comments, he would drop one or two sexist statements and Taraji in that typical Black mother “What in the world” look immediately schools him on how offensive some of his remarks were. Now being the gentleman he is, he apologized upon their next meeting and it is in this very scene a very valuable lesson came to me.

In a previous post, “Sexy, Sassy, Wahala: What Modern African Women Say They Don’t Want In A Man”,  I noted that no matter how educated and refined some men appeared, they were still very likely to be a cliche. Sometimes it is just a simple case of their internalized patriarchal upbringing that makes them continue to see women as weak beings and incapable of more agile feats like engineering, maths and computers and leadership. Other times, it is a complex combination of male feminism and toxic masculinity to produced a new and scarier hybridity.

Modern feminists and all women alike are being cautioned to be very aware of this and learn how to be even stronger/firmer in dealing with this emerging crop of men. During his apology, he approached it in so many ways without actually saying the words, “I am sorry.” Taraji is adamant and pushes him to actually say the words, “I am sorry.” And when he finally gets the courage to say them, Taraji pushes him further to explain what exactly he was sorry for as a way for her to ascertain whether or not they were on the same page.

This is because most times men only apologize just because their women are upset, and that that atmosphere is a little uncomfortable, and that that mood robs them of certain incentives like a good cooked meal and sex. So not all your man’s apologies may be genuine and you would need to make sure that he not only recognizes his mistakes, but that they understand why they are offensive.

From my little experiences in the dating world, it is quite disappointing to find that most of our handsome, smart gentlemen out there are not even privy to modern conversations around gender. So their numerous acquired degrees put them as people who know so much about very little.

4. Unity in strength

“Any upward movement for one, is an upward movement for us all…”

This would be the first most memorable quotes the movie provides. The “divide and conquer” rule has been one vital tool used in various forms of oppression and marginalization: gender and race, for example. It is easier for marginalized groups to recognize who their oppressors are when they are on the same page. It is for this reason, unity, remains an enemy to the oppressor.

As long as women continue to fight each other and compete with each other for the attention of men, we would never overcome the real enemy of our woes, patriarchy; In the same vein, minority racial groups would continue to occupy their positions of inferiority if we stopped seeing the world through the lenses of the oppressor.

In Hidden Figures, moving together, relying on each other, supporting and protecting each other was keen to their individual successes. It is even this approach that opened the eyes of White women to realize that they, as women, were also in the same sinking boat as Black women. As a people, our self-hating tendencies (which is no fault of ours) has got to stop. Let me echo my favorite quote of the week by a woman I am yet to research on; “Without a cultural revolution, our political revolution would not succeed!”

We have a shared enemy, and shared goals. We cannot be denigrating each other and whats worse; we cannot be denigrating each other using our oppressor’s terms and conditions. It is high time we realized that we are, indeed, in this together!

I would end my preview here before I spill all the details. And if you need further proof on why you should see this movie, I’ll have you know it received a standing ovation after the showing. I kid you not, close to 35 grey-haired White couples stood up and freaking clapped! Lol! I leave you with six of my favorite quotes from the movie, and an interesting article I came across.

“Every  time we get a chance to get ahead they move the finish line. Every time.”

“We go from being our father’s daughters, to our husbands wives, to our babies’ mothers.”

“Here at NASA we all pee the same color.”

 

Katherine (Taraji): How can you possibly be ogling these White men.”

Mary Jackson(Janelle Monae): It’s equal rights. I have every right to see fine in every color!”

 

“Oh, I’ll tell you where to begin: Three Negro women chasing a white police officer down a highway in Hampton, Virginia in 1961. Ladies, that there is a God-ordained miracle!”

“Civil Rights ain’t always civil.”

 

Efe Plange

Efe Plange

Efe Plange is founder and editor of Sankofa Reviews. She holds a Master's degree in Rhetoric and Technical Communication from Michigan Technological University. She is passionate about the Arts and Cultural industry and her background in the field is fueled by a longstanding dream of seeing theory work together with practice. Connect with Efe on social media.
Efe Plange

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