[Film] Hidden Figures and Revealed Narratives

“There is no bathroom for me here. There are no colored bathrooms in this building or any building outside the West Campus, which is half a mile away. Did you know that? … And I work like a dog, day and night living off of coffee from a pot none of you wanna touch!”

(dialogue from Hidden Figures)

Some people might say that entertainment should never be linked with politics. Just make it pure, with its core designation: to entertain! But what is pure, nothing is pure, and by being "pure", there's a risk to it, and that's: BOREDOM. And everybody fancies to spectate a little bit of politics, the enticing drama that is inherent to it. Am I right? Folks always love a little spicy intrigue that links to everyday lives dynamics, history, and even socio-political climate. Movies, for example, have always been the escape for some people to relax, and to learn a little bit about life. But throughout history, movies haven’t always been about: happy life, dancey-pancey, and music. It has always been political.

The first socio-political movie (on racism) that I watched was: The Great Debaters (2007). Prior to that, my preference for movies have always been action-based and motivational. The Great Debaters gave me the information that I have not received from school, the frightening situation that was experienced by african-americans in the US with death threats shadowing them in every step. I learned a lot from this movie. I was deeply moved by how an audio-visual piece, like a movie, can help me extract so much knowledge better than the modules in school. Well maybe my teachers have mentioned this issue in one of our classes, but I wasnt really the goody-two-shoes in school, and maybe I did not paid enough attention, or perhaps the dialogue on racism and human rights were never been a priority at all, which made it absent from my educational grasp. 

As I said before, I used to only watch action, romantic and motivating life kind of movies. And after my experience with The Great Debaters, I am most certain that sensitive social issues can definitely be brought up to pop culture mediums like: movies or music. And especially when it comes to history, movies can certainly present a more digestible and interesting formulation that can cater all sorts of society, especially the young. 

From a black and white movie like: To Kill A Mockingbird (1962), a masterpiece adapted from a breathtaking novel by Harper Lee, to a nowadays Oscar nominated movie like Hidden Figures (2016), there’s a common line we see between its many years gap, that black people’s lives (still) don’t matter. I asked myself about it, what the hell is going on? So, folks in the US hated each other because differences of skin color? The answer is yes. For many years, hatred has been rooted between whites and blacks, with very disturbing white folks belief that black folks should only be peasants and slaves. This belief have been justified and mistakenly mixed with the glorification of misunderstood scriptures of the bible. a very dangerous cult: Ku Klux Klan, took this misconceived white supremacist belief too far, by believing that white is the purest race and everything else should be damned.

“As long as schools are segregated, Negros will receive an education that is both separate and unequal … but my opponent says today is not the day for whites and coloreds to go to the same college ... Well, would you kinda tell me when that day is gonna come? Is it gonna come tomorrow? Is it gonna come next week? In a hundred years? Never? The time for justice, the time for freedom, and the time for equality is always right now!”

(dialogues from The Great Debaters)

The double burden becomes real if you are black, and a woman. The gender biases of roles between men and women is already one hell of a trouble itself, so I guess God created them as a black woman and double the "fun"? Dont get me wrong, I don’t intend to corner the notion of God as the one who is responsible for the miserable lives experienced by the majority of black women in America, but rather to be a reminder for those who believe the pure-non-pure race even existed, that all humans are created by the same God. And as God’s creature, don’t you have an obligation to love each other? Humans hurt humans. Those misunderstood humans hurt other humans due to their poor comprehension on religions, belief, and God. No religions, belief nor God ever recommend the act of hurting. 

A very recent movie that regards the narrative of racism and sexism towards african-american women is: Hidden Figures. The story tells us the experiences of 3 black women who worked for NASA and how they faced the unjust treatment between white and black, for instance: different building, different restroom, and different coffee maker (and almost certainly different salary too). But they have these advantages, such as; smart and empowered. It’s very different if we compare it to the situation of black women at another Octavia Spencer’s movie called The Help (2011). In The Help, she and her friends are maids for the most terrible white people that you can imagine in Mississippi with no tools of empowerment to make change, perhaps due to lack of education and position in society. But in Hidden Figures the black women are NASA geniuses struggling their own sake and finally defended their positions. We can feel a fresh breeze at the ending of the movie and a kind of relieve that eventually there is hope for blacks in the US and everywhere. But is it there now?

Reflecting to the current trump-nation in America, it burned down the equality hopes that I once had for America. The discriminating law that was legalized by Trump's office that generated an impression that America is not a land of freedom anymore, and maybe it never was. Black people in the US still struggle for their life in America until now. The unequal rights protection and fulfillment between black and white is not only an issue in the government offices nor civil life, but also in Hollywood. The audiovisual entertainment platform has always a significant role to educate Americans (and the world) about the inequality that exists on their own land. It’s always been a discourse to involve more black people in movies; to give them roles, or to give them job in production. And thankfully there are blacks out there who never give up to grab these roles. And also, a fairly sane institution like The Academy who is not afraid to bring politics on the screen. But, Hollywood still needs more un-ignorant and tolerant white people to stand beside them and fight for the same cause to heighten the notion that black lives matter.

As a moderate movie lover, I must say that a movie is not only an entertainment for me. I always take something from the movies that I watch to my imagination or knowledge vocabulary in my head. Some movies with certain issues like black people’s rights, LGBT rights, or human rights violation around the world are always the ones that interests me more than a fantasy one. The art of feeling sad, happy, and fulfilled by hope through movies also reflects to my own life. Sometimes it makes me feel thankful, but there are also times that I feel useless. My take is that, movies must not be viewed as only a material of amusement and escape, but it can also increase your appreciation to value life and understand all things you don’t converge from your daily routines. And most importantly, it can amplify awareness on sensitive issues and increases your empathy.