‘Hidden Figures’ captures a story of black excellence

By Tatiana Rodriguez, Columnist

Historical films concerning people of color are always important. When it comes to sharing the history of black people through film, though, movies most often center around the pain and suffering that black people have overcome. And while stories of sorrow must be acknowledged, it seems as if that’s the only narrative told when it comes to black historical films.

That’s why when “Hidden Figures”  graced the screens of select theaters, I was overwhelmed with joy. Finally, a movie that focuses on the achievements of black people — black women in particular — without having to include scenes of horror and pain.

While the suffering stories of black people are historically accurate tales and must be told, their achievements are often forgotten due to the whitewashing of U.S. and world history.

Whitewashing — the practice of omitting facts or fabricating historical events in order to support white supremacy — can be related to various sources of knowledge and information such as educational tools and popular media.

Popular media such as television shows and films can serve as an easy-to-digest history lesson that may help to remedy the whitewashing of U.S. and world history classes. But often only the painful moments are the pieces of history that are shown — leaving the success and advancements of black people to be erased from most people’s common knowledge.

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    Whitewashing media almost always leads to making movies only about slavery and the Civil Rights Movement, which results in the idea that not only is black history comprised of misfortune and mistreatment, but that black people have contributed nearly nothing to society.

    Movies such as “Hidden Figures,” however, help shatter that myth. Directed by Theodore Melfi, the film follows the true stories of Katherine G. Johnson, Mary Jackson and Dorothy Vaughn — all black women who pioneered critical mathematical, engineering and programming research for NASA, respectively.

    While the inspiring stories of black women in STEM fields were enough to get me excited, the best thing about the film is that it is not once interrupted by common tragedy tropes such as a racially charged murder. Yet the story remains true to its reality. While it indeed showcases the characters’ reactions to the ongoing Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, the film doesn’t throw in a random act of violence for a chance at a guilt-worthy Academy Award.

    The movie uplifts the black community and educates the plethora of people who were once unknowing of the historical tale. A healthy mix of black girl magic, healthy black relationships and women’s empowerment does more to mend the disconnect between whitewashed history and real black achievements than yet another movie about slavery or the Civil Rights Movement.

    And while the majority of those films are extremely well-made, it’s time for filmmakers to educate and empower millions by telling the stories of black people who succeeded beyond gaining their civil rights. It’s time for black people to watch their history on the big screen in its entirety. It’s time for historical black films to show the black history that is glorious and bright alongside the more well-known stories of trials and tribulations.

    Tatiana is a freshman in Media.

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