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Why the Smartness & Tenacity portrayed in “Hidden Figures” will empower you like Nothing before

I am going out of my comfort zone. Me who like to talk about food, yoga and wellness in general, I am trying to inspire you channelling other sensations within you. The heat of tenacity, strength, togetherness and activism. Do not only give me the benefit of the doubt, but try to reflect upon what’s following, trying to take as much as you can from it; simply so that you can be empowered, too.

What comes in mind when thinking about historical movies focusing on brilliant minds, we can expect, as Lenika Cruz puts it in The Atlantic, “a tale of ego”. Films like The Theory of Everything or The Imitiation Game do talk about those scientists’ struggles as individuals, but frame their lives as inaccessible – a genius that we, people, cannot even fancy. Hidden Figures sets apart as it is not a film of ego, but of brilliance. It’s a story of tenacity, willpower, strength and struggle; even though there is a little glorification of those characters, there’s no such thing as individual glory.

We are not only looking at three remarkable people, working in the space program in the 1960s – Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson & Dorothy Vaughan – pioneering African American women, with their calculations powers and engineering talents. This movie also looks closely into their community’s context.Despite living, working and building up their career during the segregation-era America, facing discrimination from their home to their workplace, these women not only use their very own grit, but channel the power of their community. And that film celebrates just that. Those women are not only phenomenal at what they do, they also are rooted in their communities, going to church, taking care of their children, giving their time, energy and patience, waiting for each other on the parking lot in the evenings, and simply lifting each other up. It is a more human and accessible way of picturing them, which enables Hidden Figures to be genuinely inspiring.

Katherine (Taraji P. Henson) is indeed the appearing protagonist, but it’s about a trio, not a lone heroine. She will become the first black women working on a special task group trying to send a man to space. But her story is tightly woven into her friends’, Mary (Janelle Monae), who became NASA’s first black female engineer, and Dorothy (Octavia Spencer), who became NASA’s first African American manager. And what’s wonderful is that each of them is “uniquely aware of the broader stakes of her own success – for other women, black people, black women and America at large – a knowledge that is as much an inspiration (for them just as well as ourselves) as it is a heavy weight”[1].

Based on Margot Lee Shetterly’s nonfiction book of the same title, the film turns, as The New York Times puts it, “these three amazing women’s careers into a rousing celebration of merit rewarded and perseverance repaid […], offering belated acknowledgment of bravery and talent and an overdue reckoning with the sins of the past”. In a nutshell, make sure to keep your talents up, never give up, be perseverant and brave, and it will eventually pay off.

One last piece of context before moving on the four “powers” I wanted to highlight today. Hidden Figures takes us back to 1961, when racial segregation and sexism were widely accepted facts of life, where women were considered as “computers” (usually women employees charged with calculating). Due to the segregation laws, it was a time where African American women had to work in separate “coloured” building, pee in separate toilets (in this case, more than a mile away from Katherine’s workplace), drink from another jug of coffee, and so one. I guess you can see the picture.

Now, coming out of the movies, I felt empowered, strong and more determined than ever to let my footprint on this planet and be the change I wanted to see in the world. I could not explain this feeling, but what I can assure you is that it was fantastic (and if it’s not for this, you might want to go and watch it just for the music producer’s genius – you will not be able to stop your feet from dancing!). So here are, the three powers this film helped me realise we all had within ourselves.

1. The Power of Determination

There are many ingredients to your own success. And determination certainly is one of them. It may easily be defined by having enough willpower to face difficulties, being strong enough to resist your persecutor, being intelligent enough never to give up on what you think you’re doing is the right thing to do. I mean, how many time have you been on the verge because you thought you could never do it, you would not have enough time, enough money, enough strength, enough intelligence, or enough freedom? Whenever thinking this way, you let the outside world and the people that surround you dictate how you should act and what you should do with your life. And I am sure this is not what you’d like to be doing…

The power of determination they depict here is so inspirational – facing White’s condescension without blinking, all those prejudices without saying a word, keeping on calculating, engineering, monitoring in silence, doing as they are told and still, in a way no one could prove them wrong, fighting against that segregationist system by means of shouting, prosecuting and without permission. Witnessing white supremacy’s normalcy, but pursuing their ambitions in spite of it and trying to live normal shadow lives. This requires a willpower I do not think I’ll ever have.

I am not advising you to drop everything and start fighting against the system (that I am not at all), simply because today’s conditions are by far not as horrible as how they were at that time. But what I advise you is facing your problems with strength and self-confidence, knowing that you’ll get over them; resisting whenever you feel like you’re being diminished, segregated (yes, that still happens sometimes), or misjudged; speaking out for others who do not have the strength to speak for themselves; following your very own definition of happiness and success.

2. The Power of Individuality & Togetherness

I do not think I’ve ever seen something more beautiful and inspiring that the light a person’s spreading around – a light that comes from deep within, from this person’s self-acceptance, self-realisation, self-confidence. And do you see the pattern here? “Self” it is indeed. Because there’s no other person than yourself to give you that light, that glow. I strongly believe we all our beautiful in our own ways, we all were gifted with a special talent, a talent that awaits to be used and developed. It is when you embrace that beauty, that talent, that individuality that you’ll shine like a bright star, that you’ll be ready to inspire as much as you’ve been inspired. As soon as you’ve succeeded in following your gut feeling, accepting your own self and listening to your emotions, I know for sure people are going to be attracted to you like a magnet. You know why? Because in today’s society, we forgot how to listen to and act with our emotions, and when someone does it, it suddenly makes us realise we too, have all those emotions inside, ready to be used.

I find it so remarkable how Katherine, Mary & Dorothy all shine in their own ways, but still try to use that brightness to shed light on their community. Because finding your light and fighting to keep it alive is one thing. Using it to inspire and help others is another. “Any upward movement is movement for us all. It’s not just movement for me” Dorothy says while driving them all back home, after a disappointing setback at work. Indeed, in that context, we’re talking about raising awareness against segregation and trying to bring a change in their society and its rotten and stinking traditions (sorry, is that too much?). But applied to our context and to our lifestyles, this could still be wisely used. We all are connected, interdependent, and if we were all to lift each other up instead of dragging us down, I am sure the world would quickly be a better place. Isolated talent is useless if you’re not linking it with the concept of community and togetherness.

There’s a complexity in the social forces that shaped those three women’s lives, which is still relevant today. Hidden Figure’s power is found in the fact it portrays sisterhood, the communistic spirit; not only casting its spotlight wide helps showing what’s been achieved in history’s shadows with appreciation, but it also shows that individuality is the lock, and togetherness is the key.

3. The Power of Dreams

Dreaming. A delightful opportunity we either do not take because it feels useless to hope for things that will never happen, or are forced to give up on it since our society’s pressuring us to be rational and well anchored in our robotic life/work/routine. A capability of the mind we attribute to those who’ll never be successful in their lives, because who could be if doing nothing except building a life on hopes and irrational thoughts. My definition? A world of genuine beauty, that can help you build up your imagination like nothing else on this earth, that lifts you up whenever feeling down, that gives great ideas to brilliant minds, that lights up the nights, that brings all sensitive souls together, that reveal our deepest selves, that helps you break away from reality while offering you the space to find new ways to live, move and be happy.

The power of dreams should have been the first described her; simply because ever idea, every hope, every dream, start here. From a tiny green bud, if you add the right amount of wit, determination and willpower to it, it will bloom into the most beautiful flower you’ve ever seen. Why? Because when you realise a dream, and it works out, it means you’ve listened to your guts and heart. It means you are happy. It means you’ve found your definition of a dream, of happiness. It means you are a genuinely beautiful individual.

Not only do the character in Hidden Figures dream, but they fight for it and try to show the way by being the firsts, against all odds, against what rational people advise them. I am not saying it’s going to be easy, not at all. You are going to draw back from time to time, face impediments, fight with others and yourself, but you must keep on going, fighting for what you think is right. If you’re determined enough and believe it to be good, then you’ll be successful in a way or another. Be free to be yourself, to draw whatever you feel like drawing on the big white board that is your life, because no one is living your life, no one knows it better than yourself. Everything will be just fine! A positive mind is the key to success.

To conclude, let me just apologise for this enormous narrative/film review/psychological essay, which is way too long but that hopefully helped you in realising that arts are changing the way we think our world, the way people act with each other, and are slowly showing the way to a world with more acceptance, love and respect. I sincerely hope you have been a little inspired by what you’ve just read, and that you’re leaving this page feeling empowered, beautiful and stronger than ever, which is the state you would want to be in all the time.

[1] Cruz Lenika, What Sets the Smart Heroines of Hidden Figures Apart, in “The Atlantic”, the 9th  of January, https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2017/01/hidden-figures-review/512252/

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