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Yesterday I wrote about how awesome Hidden Figures is as a film. And, really, it is, go see it if you can.

Today I want to talk about why Hidden Figures matters.

For some time now I’ve held the position that the space race is the modern mythology of the visual media era. The key early events of the space race such as the Mercury Seven and the Apollo Program[1] were some of the first global events to impinge on the global consciousness through live TV[2] broadcasts.

I think that connected the space race to the global zeitgeist in ways that still haven’t quite gone away. It’s why there’s such a fertile genre of Space Movies, and why (for me at least) visual treatments of the space race will always have the greatest impact.

But… most of those treatments have been very straight, very white, and very male.

Most of those treatments, especially including the semi-historical[3] The Right Stuff and Apollo 13, have effectively erased the contributions of all others.

But… the others were there. They were always there.

Apollo 13 omitted Margaret Hamilton who programmed the Apollo computers. It defies belief that she wouldn’t have been consulted when it came to working out how to restart them.

The Right Stuff omitted all of the main characters of Hidden Figures, especially Katherine Goble Johnson who John Glenn did ask to check the numbers for his orbital flight[4].

Hidden Figures goes some way towards correcting that erasure. It restores people of colour and women to the modern mythology, it provides the heroes that should always have been there.

Representation matters, and in something as crucial to the myths we build around history as the space race, representation matters even more.

Hidden Figures is a great film, one that I plan to see more than once at the cinemas if I can manage it. I adore Hidden Figures for its enormous heart, for the ability to move me emotionally in a way that few other films have ever achieved.

I respect Hidden Figures for telling a story that needed to be told, a story that matters. I’m sure that there are other hidden figures who also need their stories told, and I hope that Hidden Figures is a huge enough box office hit to make that possible.

I’m looking forward to it.

[1] Apologies to the Gemini Program, which always seems to be the poor cousin in the American Space Program despite achieving some really cool stuff.

[2] The TV part is critical, earlier events impacted radio etc, but it is the space race that had the first major visual impact.

[3] Mostly historical is probably more accurate, but Artistic License / Acceptable Breaks From Reality needs to be acknowledged.

[4] Albeit, as noted on the Wikipedia page, Ms Johnson had several days to check not hours.