Martin Luther King Jr. Day, always opens a door to discussion about race issues in the United States.
Last year, on the day of King’s birth, filmmaker Spike Lee and actress Jada Pinkett Smith announced their boycott of the 2016 Academy Awards. The two prominent figures of the entertainment industry would not stand by for a second consecutive year while all 20 contenders under the acting category were caucasian.
Half a century after the civil rights movement, representation in Hollywood has been criticized for lacking diversity and only casting people of color as demeaning extraneous characters that uphold racial stereotypes. A study conducted by the University of Southern California found that as of 2016 only seven percent of films had a cast whose balance of race and ethnicity reflected the country’s diversity.
A film that would’ve likely met USC’s standards for diversity, “Hidden Figures,” premiered in theaters nationwide on Dec. 25, 2016.
In short, the film is about the three African-American women who worked for NASA in the ‘60s and whose mathematical skills made it possible for astronaut John Glenn to orbit the earth.
Based on true historical events, actresses Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monáe portrayed Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson respectively in a revolutionary display of empowered black women making their way in the U.S. as mathematicians and scientists instead of slaves and maids. Unfortunately, few were aware of these iconic women prior to the film’s debut.
As a child, Kyra Williams, a biracial McDowell sophomore, didn’t have black female figures in history to look up to. She said that she believes this movie will inspire young women of color to break gender roles as well as racial barriers.
As a biracial freshman in the McDowell student body, Hannah Olanrewaju, said “Hidden Figures” “will make more people realize that America was founded by many people, different people.” She herself admitted, “I never realized that women of color were even involved in something like NASA [in the 1960s] and the fact that they don’t teach things like that in school is just surprising.”
Both Williams and Olanrewaju were disillusioned by how women of color have significantly impacted history without any recognition for their pioneering work.
The effect that the whitewashing of history has had on representation in the film industry has also upset these women of color at McDowell greatly.
“Hidden Figures” is taking strides in the right direction by tying history into film in a way that tells the stories of real people who are relatable to not only an underrepresented portion of the population, but also to women who make up half of the United States population.
Only time will tell if this film is nominated for an Oscar on Jan. 24, 2017, to receive deserved critical acclaim for its cultural influence on the country.
As featured in the January 2017 issue of The Trojan Voice