How ‘Hidden Figures’ Affirms the Value of Black Women

Hidden Figures Poster

On Martin Luther King weekend, Hidden Figures saved the soul of America. I made my way to the AMC Rolling Hills Theater in the South Bay to catch the 4pm screening of the film. According to reviews, this was “the #1 best movie” in theaters.  But I had to see for myself.  As I submerged myself in a huge piece of history, I was not sure what to expect. Was this going to be another overrated movie about the black struggle that continues to remind black women how inadequate they are? Was this another movie that would make me angry once I left the theater; feeling  a bit discouraged that not much had changed?

This was not the case. Three beautiful and brilliant actresses lit the screen with honesty and conviction. The entire cast had a message far beyond set designs, mesmerizing performances and a paycheck. They had a message and we took notice.

Katherine Johnson (Taraji Henson), Dorothy Vaughan ( Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae)  represent every  black woman who is gifted , brilliant and driven, waiting for that moment when her excellence will be recognized, not because she is black or a woman, but because she is human.

The score “Runnin” by Pharrell Williams fits perfectly as Katherine Johnson (Taraji Henson) runs across the NASA campus to use the colored restroom because none was available in the building where she worked. And I couldn’t help but agree, yes women, especially black women have been “runnin” for centuries to be accepted by a system that ignores and demeans their existence. Women have been “runnin” to be affirmed, to be perceived to be as smart and as capable as any man, and in Katherine Johnson’s case, any color.

Black women have been “runnin” and just like Katherine Johnson, pressured to be a mother and a father to her children while working double time to make a better life for her family. Eventually, she’d had enough. In one scene she confesses, “I don’t know if I can keep up,” referring to her white male counterparts.  If we must be honest, how many times have black women’s abilities and intelligence been questioned? How often are we made to believe that there is no seat at the table for us?

Not to mention Mary Jackson, played by the flawless Janelle Monae, who decides to pursue her dreams of being an engineer regardless of what anyone thinks. The sad thing about her character, is that today we would call her a “black independent woman who always has an attitude and is too difficult to handle.” Meanwhile the truth is quite different: she is brave and needs her sass to get her across the finish line in order to be the first of anything in her family – attend college, win an Oscar or win a gold medal at the Olympics.  Dorothy Vaughan’s (Octavia Spenser) poise and tenacity is much needed to complete this perfect trio. Unwilling to lower her standards, she waits for what she deserves because she worked hard for it and understands her worth.

Hidden Figures is more than a movie, it is a movement sweeping across America.  Its perfect timing helps us heal within the racial climate we find ourselves. It does not only educate us about black women who were real agents of change, this film awakens a generation of women to awaken to the fact that they were always worthy of a seat at the table.  This film is igniting a flame where the fire was once quenched by “Colored Only “signs.

Al Harrison (Kevin Costner) taking an axe to the “Colored” only sign outside the bathroom door speaks volumes that each of us, black or white, has a responsibility to stand for justice when given the power to do so.  It’s time to put an axe to discrimination and injustice in the free world, America. Let us remove the “colored only” signs that furnished our inner city streets with low quality housing, and ground-level education.  Take down the “colored only” signs in our religious system that proclaims the love of God, yet allowing the church to be a segregated institution.

Thanks  Hollywood, for taking a chance on a film starring three phenomenal black actresses who by the way, killed it at the box office now two weekends in a row (accomplishing the epic feat of beating Star Wars: Rogue One).  It only shows that the world is ready for change. Geena Davis says, “we can’t make half of Congress women tomorrow, but they can be on TV.” Hidden Figures changed me and definitely changed black women across the world.  It was worth buying several tickets at the box office.

Women, black women, hand in your “runnin” shoes and please have a seat of at the table. Let’s continue to change history.

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Author: Jozanne Marie is an award-winning actress, poet, playwright and advocate for women. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.