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  • Kiranmayea Yenugudati

Resilience and Discrimination in Hidden Figures

By: Kiranmayea Yenugudati
Posted on April 1, 2024
Portraits of Kathrine Goble, Mary Jackson, and Dorothy Vaughan, three African-American women who broke through adversity and worked at NASA in the 1960s.
Illustration Title: Three portraits
Illustration by: Julianna Ma
Medium: Digital
Size: resized from 2048 pixels x 2048 pixels
Year: 2024

Discrimination often is extremely difficult to endure and make people feel hopeless, however,  we can learn to overcome the problem, building resilience.  Theodore Melfi’s film Hidden Figures (2016) is centered  around three black  women: Kathrine Goble, Marry Jackson and Dorothy Vuaghan, all working at NASA in the 1960s.  The film explores  Kathrine’s struggle of experiencing segregation, Mary's challenge of overcoming gender bias, Dorothy’s mistreatment and unequal payment and their collective path to  overcoming their adversity and building resilience. Thus, adaptability and irrepressibility are what people build and enhance through overcoming  adversity. 

Kathrine, an aspiring NASA mathematician and the main protagonist of the film is faced by segregation and racial adversity, however, her determination allows her to adapt to the racist environment and build resilience. When Paul Stafford who is head of the NASA research center said  ‘Pentagon briefings are not for civilians’ with a facial expression implying that Katherine is an outsider. This exhibits the [adjective] point of view that white people look at black  women in the 1960s. Mr Stafford who is the head of  NASA research center believes that confidential information cannot be trusted by colored people. Additionally, the facial expression he makes gives the audience the sense that Katherine is excluded from these meetings.  The eye level shot of Kathrine  pointing at the confidential paperwork followed by the zoomed in photo of the paper shows that although Katherine has been segregated from her colleagues, she finds new methods to fit in. This reveals her effort to adapt to her surroundings and circumstances - the close up shot of the document is used to represent her victory in handling  the secrets that were supposedly ‘unreliable’ in her hands. Furthermore, the uplifting sound when Katherine is solving the math problem is combined with the amazed facial expression of the men in the room,displaying that confidential material and meetings are safe in Katherine’s  hands and also that she is highly capable at solving complex problems. Katherines resilience and mindset has helped her to be accepted into her workplace. It is clear that Kathrine builds resilience by adapting to her surroundings and finding new ways to deal with discrimination.

Dorothy, an aspiring NASA programmer and one of the protagonists of the film is challenged by unequal payment and mistreatment in her role yet she demonstrates persistence and a demanding nature, for which she gains resilience. In a conversation with her white colleague, Miss Mitchell, about an official role as a supervisor, Dorothy said  “ I’m doing the work as a supervisor” and Miss Mitchell replied by saying “Well that’s NASA for ya.”  This shows how Dorothy is not equally paid or respected for what she is doing. Miss Mitchel, on the other hand, is unaffected  by it, connoting how black people  people are not valued  even when they are working more than they are supposed to, for a requirement that was made fairly. The atmosphere of the scene is one of betrayal. Dorothy says “ I’m not accepting the re-assignment unless I bring my ladies with me.” Although she was astonished that the persistence she put in asking Miss Mitchel for this offer has worked, she turned it down as all her ladies are not coming with her to work on this project at NASA.These ladies are all the other talented black women that Dorothy has trained so that sometime in the future they can get a job like her.   This communicates that Dorothy has learnt resilience and the importance of the people that made her learn that. She gives respect to the ladies and denies the offer achieving resilience by exhibiting patience and not succumbing to discrimination

Mary, an aspiring aerospace engineer and one of the protagonists of the film is confronted by gender and racial discrimination at work, nevertheless, she accepts her obstacles and works around them. “Our law is the Law.” This statement made by the judge highlights the rationale to the adversity, racial discrimination and exclusion of Black people. This reveals how Black people’s rights are not considered by the court, their opinion is not valued and their requests are not substantiated. This challengesMary's dream of becoming an aeronautical engineer, as she needs to get a diploma which can only be obtained only from a all-white high school. “I have no choice but to be the first '' This statement from Mary shows the hint of pathos used to persuade the judge. She remains resilient after facing numerous adversities, revealing how she adapted as  the only black woman in an all-white high school.The non-diegetic mellow tune which is accompanied with her close up her face shows the strength and courage she has picked up. Marry is using her emotions to change the law for black women. To summarize, Marry builds resilience by staying  sturdy and demolishing gender and racial stereotypes.

In Hidden Figures  adversities build resilience while the protagonists learn to overcome challenges. Kathrine, Dorothy, and Mary all establish resilience in the film by adapting into their extremely  judgmental workplace. Throughout Hidden Figures the characters overcome their obstacles  and simultaneously strive to reconcile. 

[Writing Editor: Nikky Kroeger]

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