Brief Thoughts After Hidden Figures

I had a chance to see the film Hidden Figures yesterday. Without saying too much for folks who have yet to see it, I share a few fragmented thoughts I had as I left the theater.

I am happy that Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn, and Mary Jackson are being recognized through this film and the conversation it’s creating. It’s important to honor the bridge builders whose work lives and bodies paved the way for us.

We make Black history everyday. Thank you to the Black Women who endured so much racism, sexism and other forms of bigotry as they worked to establish a presence in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, and solidarity to the Black Women in STEM today who are continuing that work.

Each time I saw Vivian Michael’s depiction on-screen I couldn’t stop thinking  #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen.

Critical Race Theory is an excellent framework through which to view this film. In addition to racism being a normal part of American life in that it is so deeply embedded in all aspects of society, I saw interest convergence: the idea that racial progress occurs to the degree that the white power structure and the white people who maintain it see it being in their best interests as well. I saw this when access was given not because it was the right thing to do, but because it would also benefit white people in some way.

As the credits rolled and I heard Kim Burell’s voice singing through the speakers, I thought of her homophobic sermon and Shirley Caesar’s response. I wondered how they could condemn and demonize people for their sexual orientation, with the same text that was used to justify our enslavement, and other forms of structural racism that were depicted in this film and persist today?

I thought of how that same text has also been used historically, and is currently used today in some spaces to assert that Kim Burell and Shirley Caesar’s work as clergy is illegitimate solely because they are women. Because what is context? What is intersectionality?

It’s not just Burell or Caesar however. The amen’s and agreement from people in the background made them just as complicit although their faces and identities remain hidden.

As I made my way out of the crowded theater I had another thought that I haven’t been able to shake.

How many of the numerous white people who were in here with me voted for Donald Trump?” Because the place was packed.

Ubuntu,

From Aspiring Humanitarian, Relando Thompkins-Jones, MSW, LLMSW

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I'm a Social Justice Educator and Aspiring Humanitarian who is interested in conflict resolution, improving intergroup relations, and building more equitable and inclusive communities. "Notes from an Aspiring Humanitarian" is my blog, where I write about issues of diversity, inclusion, equity, and social justice. By exploring social identities through written word, film & video, and other forms of media, I hope to continue to expand and enrich conversations about social issues that face our society, and to find ways to take social action while encouraging others to do so as well in their own ways.

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4 Responses

  1. Hi! I thought the movie was outstanding. The demographic of the attendees was interesting; the theatre was packed with mostly older white couples. Having seen the exit polls I am sure the majority voted for Hillary, but I was saddened not to see more support in my area from people of color. Hopefully that was just an issue in my area. I was thinking and feeling some of the same things you were. Thank you for this piece.

    M.

    • I agree, I thought it was a great film. There were times though where I felt as if the role racism played was downplayed a bit in favor of making it more about gender, but I think the intersections of racism and sexism were well at work in their story. There were some people who appeared to be people of color in my theater, but the vast majority of people where I was appeared to be White. The theater was in a predominantly white area though, so that could have played a role as well. I just saw something that said that the film made more than the last star wars film did in its opening weekend so I’m happy that it’s getting some attention and support.

      Thank you for reading, and for sharing your comments!

  2. tunisiajolyn84 says:

    “I wondered how they could condemn and demonize people for their sexual orientation, with the same text that was used to justify our enslavement, and other forms of structural racism that were depicted in this film and persist today?” I wonder this question as well as your other great questions. I guess the only answer that makes “sense” is that us, humans, are some contradicting beings. Sometimes, we really don’t make any sense at all. lol Glad you enjoyed the film. I had the pleasure of viewing it before it was released and I knew it would be the perfect family film, especially for Black people. Very empowering.

    • Yes, I think it was a great film and I am so pleased that it continues to do well at the box office. It’s true that we’re complicated as human beings. I try to pose questions like that to hopefully create space for empathy; to encourage other Black people to really consider what the phrase Black Lives Matter really means. Does it mean all Black lives, or a more narrowly defined representation? In my own life and work I’ve found that sometimes highlighting contradictions between what we claim to be vs. what we’re actually putting into practice can be helpful towards changing thought processes and behavior. Other times, it doesn’t work at all, but I think the process is more of a marathon than a sprint.

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