REAL DEAL

MEET HOL­LY­WOOD’S NEW HE­ROES IN HID­DEN FIG­URES

The Gold Coast Bulletin - Play Magazine - - FRONT PAGE - SALLY COATES

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.

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