Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. The Subtle Patriotism of Hidden Figures

 

Hidden Figures is an all right movie about black women working for NASA in Virginia during segregation. The movie hits the usual beats about racism being bad and woman being empowered in the usually overly sentimental and unrealistic ways that Hollywood has become so fond of.

But that’s not the most interesting and (to my knowledge) unremarked part of the movie. The movie seems to stand apart from the more woke message of the current progressive left that says that America is irredeemably racist. A quote by Martin Luther King played on a black-and-white TV seems to speak to the message of this movie. “We think we’re rendering a great service to our nation. For this is not a struggle for ourselves alone. It is a struggle to save the soul of America.” America is very much worth saving in this movie.

When the ladies are confronted with segregation, they are trying to advance their education and their careers in order to contribute to the effort to put a man on the moon. In one scene, Dorothy Vaughan, played by Octavia Spencer wants to rent a book about how to work an IBM computer in order to calculate things for NASA quicker. She has to go to the whites-only section to rent the book and she ends up escorted out by a policeman. In another plot thread, Mary Jackson, played by Janelle Monáe, has to ask a judge to desegregate a local school so she can become an engineer. She makes the case to the white judge that if she can become the first black person to attend the school she can help put the first man on the moon. The judge agrees.

The black women of Hidden Figures aren’t woke Ta-Nehisi Coates types who want to separate themselves from the American mainstream. They want to be included so they can help Mr. Kennedy outdo the Russians and they have a crush on John Glenn. Though descendants of slaves, they are similar to legal patriotic immigrants who actively want to enter the mainstream of America as equal citizens. The goal is to not be a victim and become a successful American who can get promoted after working very hard.

I wrote two other pieces about black-American pop culture referring to the Netflix show Luke Cage. (Links here and here).

I am noticing a theme. Concerns about bigotry and mistreatment are always there but underneath there is a strong attachment to America and a desire to be more American. I know that social media and the MSM promote a kind of identity politics that is disturbingly similar to the old segregation but the American ideal and the American dream is still appealing to very large percentage of black-Americans.

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There are 10 comments.

  1. philo Member

    Henry Castaigne: Hidden Figures is an alright movie…

    Actually, aside from the silly wind tunnel scenes, it was much better that I thought it would be. 

    Given that it was released only two and a half years ago, I posit that it was written and produced in a much different America than we occupy today. It would be interesting to see how this same story would be told if the movie were to be made today.

    • #1
    • June 23, 2019, at 2:11 PM PST
    • 6 likes
  2. OccupantCDN Coolidge

    Based on the book of the same tittle, by Margot Lee Shetterly published in 2016. I had thought to see this film back in the day, but in the end, didn’t. I had expected to see this film somewhere by now – like Netflix, but still havent seen it.

    Its funny how quickly social norms have changed, and how quickly the old norm has been demonized, then forgotten. Its like we’re pretending the new norm has always been normal, and the traditional norms were a vernier of pretense for polite society.

    • #2
    • June 23, 2019, at 4:17 PM PST
    • 4 likes
  3. Retail Lawyer Member

    The movie is an obnoxious preachy bore. White people bad, black people good. Got it.

    • #3
    • June 23, 2019, at 9:26 PM PST
    • Like
  4. Henry Castaigne Member
    Henry Castaigne Post author

    Retail Lawyer (View Comment):

    The movie is an obnoxious preachy bore. White people bad, black people good. Got it.

    John Glenn, John Kennedy and the manager of NASA were alright white guys.

    I didn’t find it preachy because it didn’t lather on the white guilt but I found it a little on the nose. I understand your feelings. Much like Bill Burr I’m running out of white guilt. However, everyone, white and black were optimistic about the future. And they were all right. We beat the Russians and put a man on the moon. Take that Brezhnev!

     

    • #4
    • June 23, 2019, at 9:55 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  5. OccupantCDN Coolidge

    I downloaded and watched the movie last night. I skipped though a fair bit of it, as being the usual white people (and more specifically southerners) are a**hat trash.

    The one idea I took away from the movie, is that NASA – the liberal bastion of science and reason – is a racist institution. It seems to be the start of the tearing down and tarnishing of NASA. (gladly Hollywood didn’t pile on, perhaps further attacks didn’t ‘focus group’ well) It too bears the moral burdens of Jim Crow. I thought it was funny that the when the astronauts arrive, they want to greet everyone – including the black employees. The military had been de-segregated already, the astronauts are allowed to keep the hero status they earned, by being the only nice white people in the film, while the institution gets smeared.

    It was kinda odd, to see Jim Parsons not being Sheldon Cooper. Taken as a whole, I am glad I didn’t pay to see this film in a theater.

    • #5
    • June 24, 2019, at 12:02 PM PST
    • Like
  6. Seawriter Member

    OccupantCDN (View Comment):
    Based on the book of the same tittle, by Margot Lee Shetterly published in 2016.

    I reviewed the book on Ricochet.

    • #6
    • June 24, 2019, at 1:43 PM PST
    • 1 like
  7. AUMom Member

    Katherine Johnson later said that John Glenn was as he was portrayed. While I winced a little at his “Get the girl to run the numbers,” that he went over and met everybody in the group seems to be the case. I guess the desegregation in the military worked. I know it did for the one horse towns I grew up in. We knew each other in a town not known for its tolerance. 

    • #7
    • June 24, 2019, at 8:34 PM PST
    • Like
  8. Aaron Miller Member

    AUMom (View Comment):
    While I winced a little at his “Get the girl to run the numbers,” that he went over and met everybody in the group seems to be the case.

    I haven’t seen the film. But that quote hardly seems risible. If he referred to a man who was a rookie or else considerably lower on the totem pole, it would not have been odd in any industry for a manager or senior specialist to refer to the man as “kid” or by some other mildly demeaning moniker. It’s not terribly unjust or particular to any culture for someone to think respect in a workplace must be earned. 

    And anyway, “Get the girl to run the numbers” implies that her calculations are trustworthy. Even if accompanied by a jab, there is respect in that acknowledgment. 

    I have known people who use racial slurs while treating the targets with the same respect and congeniality they afford anyone else. People and relationships are much more nuanced than simply racist-or-not, sexist-or-not, etc.

    • #8
    • June 25, 2019, at 10:27 AM PST
    • 1 like
  9. Hartmann von Aue Member

    Retail Lawyer (View Comment):

    The movie is an obnoxious preachy bore. White people bad, black people good. Got it.

    Wrong. There are plenty of white good guys in the film and none of the main characters is perfect. Good heavens, even the obvious stereotype they could have played- the evil white southern sheriff- did not get played. One gets the sense in the film that the white folks over at NASA are just going along with the system of race-based discrimination only because they have not thought much about but accepted it as “how things are”. Moral inertia is their problem, not outright evil. 

    So, I´’d encourage people to politely ignore the digs at the film here. It’s much better than “pretty good,” too. The church picnic scenes are remarkably true to life, the acting hits no false notes with the possible exception of Kirsten Dunst.

    • #9
    • June 26, 2019, at 3:22 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  10. Henry Castaigne Member
    Henry Castaigne Post author

    Hartmann von Aue (View Comment):
    One gets the sense in the film that the white folks over at NASA are just going along with the system of race-based discrimination only because they have not thought much about but accepted it as “how things are”. Moral inertia is their problem, not outright evil. 

    That’s a wonderful point that I should have made. Integration is the force of the future in Hidden Figures and the black protagonists are cautiously optimistic that things will get better. Jim Crow is depicted as being a common part of American life at the time but it isn’t a permanent part of America. But moral inertia can still be a pretty rough thing. 

    • #10
    • June 26, 2019, at 11:10 AM PST
    • 3 likes