MEET HOLLYWOOD’S NEW HEROES IN HIDDEN FIGURES
Hidden Figures is anything but hidden – the true story of three African-American women working at NASA in the 1970s is breaking barriers and records around the world.
Academy award winner Octavia Spencer plays Dorothy Vaughan, one-third of the trio who turned around the international Space Race in favour of the US.
“Dorothy was a visionary, I would say she was a progressive,” Spencer says of her character. “When IBMs (the first electronic IBM computer) first arrived at NASA, they were giant machines and nobody could get them to work. Dorothy would sneak into the computer lab and try to figure out how to operate it. She was the one who figured out how to use IBM.”
Even now, in context of how far technology has come, Dorothy’s achievements are astounding.
“Dorothy was the interim acting supervisor of the West Computing Group (where the black computers worked),” Spencer explains. She was doing the work of a supervisor – it took a long time for her to get the title, but she finally did achieve it. She had the foresight to know that once the IBM was working, the ‘coloured computers’ (and the other women at NASA) would be out of their jobs. So she knew that she would actually have to learn how to program it too. She taught herself and then she taught all the black women and then all of the white women were taught too.
“This all took place at the birth of the Civil Rights movement and we know that feminism only got underway during the early 70s, so there was still sexism.”
Spencer says Hidden Figures is significant in, not only recognising the role of the three central women, but all women, whose roles in space history have been omitted.
“I love the metaphor ‘hidden figures’ because the film is about three black women who did extraordinary things,” she says.
“It is all about bringing these women out of the shadows. Even though the film is highlighting three of them, it’s honouring all women, by saying: ‘Yes you were on the team’. We know that women were not mentioned in other films, like Apollo 13, and if we look at archival footage, we don’t see any images of women, other than maybe walking through an office with a cup of coffee for somebody.
“The fact that these women persevered and changed the world and did the impossible is inspiring. It means there’s hope, that your own dreams are valid and you can do it too.”
Hidden Figures is out in all major cinemas today.
Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae dare to dream in Hidden Figures.