By Kyana Harris, Staff Writer
Posted 11:20 PM EST, Weds., Jan. 11, 2017
The brilliance of Black women is often minimized in the media to an extent conveying mistaken unidimensionality: On the news, they are the angry, ratchet chick from around the way, pouring their heart out in a bystander interview. Change the channel, and she is the 40-something professional who can’t find a man. In another manifestation she is ‘sassy’ and hyper-sexualized. But how often have you seen three brown-skinned, beautiful Black women that out-perform their privileged peers in STEM careers? How often have you seen those same women as mothers and supportive friends?
On Jan. 6, the movie “Hidden Figures” premiered, starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae. Directed by Theodore Melfi, the movie commemorates the roles African-American women played at NASA during the space race between the U.S. and Russia. The film focuses on three women in particular, Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson for their vast contribution to the United States’ space program. As a viewer, I was struck by their brilliant minds and resilient attitudes. These women were trailblazers.
Prior to seeing this movie, I was unaware of the contributions of Black women to the space race and NASA’s earlier projects. They weren’t in my history books when we learned about the space race, and were never mentioned casually. I found it easy to assume they didn’t have a part to play due to my perception of the absence of black women in STEM fields. Even now, Black female engineers and mathematicians appear to be few and far between. “Hidden Figures” rightly pointed out that just because we don’t hear about them doesn’t mean they don’t exist. These women served as computers before technology caught up. They programmed machinery that white, intelligent males with years of experience couldn’t even figure out. In addition to be unsung, they were also underpaid. Every day they had to prove themselves as assets to NASA because most of their jobs were only temporary.
“Hidden Figures” shed light on the disparities that black women face in STEM fields. Though the film was set in the 1960s, the circumstances haven’t changed much since then. According to the National Girls Collaborative Project, minority women comprise of fewer than 1 in 10 employed scientists and engineers. In 2013, 70 percent of workers in science and engineering occupations were white, which is close to the proportion in the U.S. working age population. While there is a severe lack of representation in STEM fields, Hidden Figures successfully captured the plight of the women who were unseen trailblazers in those fields and elegantly deconstructed the falsely perceived homogeneity of their careers.
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