Hidden Figures Movie Watching Notes Guide Answers PDF

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Hidden Figures Movie Watching Notes Guide Answers

Hidden Figures is a movie based on the book Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly.

The book was a top book of 2016 for both TIME and Publisher’s Weekly, a USA Today bestseller and a #1 New York Times bestseller. It received the prestigious Anisfield-Wolf Award for making an important contribution to understanding racism and human diversity.

The movie adaptation, released on December 25, 2016, was a critical and box office success earning numerous nominations and awards.

Getting Started The movie Hidden Figures is our Big Watch for November 2020, sponsored by the Women’s Coordinating Council. We began our ACTJAM journey to learn about racism with a Big Read, the book Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You. (Or, the longer and more scholarly option Stamped: The Definitive History of Race in America).

Stamped is a history book that takes us through the 400-year timeline of racism in America. It’s our wide-angle lens. Now, with Hidden Figures, we’re taking a close-up look at one pivotal point in that timeline: the intersection of Jim Crow segregation, the civil rights movement, the cold war with the USSR and the ensuing space race, and the fight for gender equality.

Some critics say the movie doesn’t go far enough to depict the impact of segregation and racism on Black lives. Others say that’s not the point of this story. Hidden Figure is a true story, more biography than history.

Yet like all stories, Hidden Figures is set in a particular time and place. We experience a slice of history through the lives of three remarkable Black women. More importantly, we experience history as it’s being made by these women. The story of these history-making women was unknown to the public until Hidden Figures.

The story behind the story Hidden Figures the book is the previously untold true story of the Black women “computers” whose calculations helped America win the space race. (Yes, people were called “computers”.)

These highly skilled mathematicians worked for NASA in Langley, Virginia at a time when Virginia was still “The South” and Jim Crow laws were still in force, even at NASA. Hidden Figures the movie is an adaptation of the book that follows the lives of three very real heroes – Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson, and Dorothy Vaughan – and their indispensable contributions to the US space program.

The movie focuses on the dramatic chain of events leading to the first manned Earth orbit by John Glenn in February 1962. John Glenn agreed to the launch only after he knew that Katherine Johnson had calculated and confirmed the trajectories.

Set primarily in 1961, the movie weaves together the post-WWII space race between the US and the USSR with the harsh realities of Jim Crow segregation and gender bias, and the Civil Rights movement. But Hidden Figures isn’t a documentary.

It’s a story. A true story. We’re taken into this unique time through the personal stories of three exceptional Black women who triumphed through it: Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson and Dorothy Vaughan.

Searching beyond the obvious

 The title Hidden Figures is an invitation to look beyond what’s obvious. In the movie the need to look beyond applies both to people and to the mathematics that will safely send astronauts into space and back.

At one point in the film, Al Harrison, Katherine’s boss says to her, “What I’m asking everyone in that room to do, all my geniuses, is to look beyond the numbers. To look around them, through them, for answers to questions we don’t even know to ask.” The women are hidden in plain sight, a fact accentuated by their jewel-toned dresses that stand out against the white shirts worn by the men.

Timeline of important dates

1890-1965: Jim Crow laws

1947-1991: Cold War between the US and USSR

1954-1968: Civil Rights Movement

17 May 1954: Brown vs. Board of Education declares segregated schools unconstitutional

1 December 1955: Rosa Parks refuses to give up her seat in the front of the bus and move to the “colored” section in the back.

4 October 1957: The USSR launches Sputnik 1, the first Earth-orbiting satellite.

31 January 1958: The US launches Explorer 1, the first US satellite to reach orbit.

1 October 1958: The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is created, headquartered in Hampton, Virginia.

12 April 1961: The USSR sends astronaut Yuri Gagarin into space, making a single orbit around the earth.

5 May 1961: The US sends Alan Shepard into space aboard the Mercury-Redstone spacecraft. Shepard flew 116 miles high but did not orbit Earth. The flight lasted 15 minutes.

20 February 1962: The US sends John Glenn into Earth orbit aboard the MercuryRedstone (Freedom 7) spacecraft.

Discussion questions:

• Who or what are the “hidden figures” in the movie?

• Where in the movie do you see Jim Crow laws? How did you feel when you witnessed this overt discrimination?

• Do you think the movie paints an accurate picture of racism in the south under Jim Crow? Why or why not?

• What is the significance of the scene with the policeman? What does it say about then (1961) and now?

• Consider the many moments of joy in the movie. Why include them?

• What risky acts of courage do Katherine, Mary and Dorothy take? How are they rewarded?

• The film shows the strong relationships that Katherine, Mary and Dorothy have with each other and with their families. Why do these relationships matter?

• What is the role of the Black church during the civil rights movement? Why was the church scene important to include?

• Do you think NASA was a socially progressive organization in 1961? Why or why not?

• What Jim Crow etiquette is observed at NASA? How does it change from the beginning to the end of the movie?

• Why did racism break down at NASA?

• Al Harrison, Katherine’s boss, saw Katherine’s genius. Yet he didn’t see discrimination against her in the Space Task Group — his own department — until she confronted him with it. Why not?

• In what ways does the space race parallel the civil rights movement? What kinds of freedoms are driving them?

• Transformation is the storyline of the movie. What characters are transformed? What characters are not transformed in some way?

• What is the role of coffee and the coffee pot? What does it symbolize?

• Who are the hidden figures in our community today? Why do we not see them?

Language English
No. of Pages6
PDF Size0.3 MB

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