The Atlantic

What Sets the Smart Heroines of Hidden Figures Apart

Movies about brilliant scientific or mathematical minds often focus on their subject’s ego—not so with a new film about three African American women who worked at NASA in the ’60s.
Source: 20th Century Fox

When it comes to historical movies about brilliant minds, especially in the realms of math or the sciences, audiences can all but expect a tale of ego. Films such as A Beautiful Mind, The Theory of Everything, and The Imitation Game all lean in some way on the idea of the inaccessible genius—a mathematician, computer scientist, and theoretical physicist all somehow removed from the world.

Hidden Figures is not that kind of film: It’s a story of brilliance, but not of ego. It’s a story of struggle and willpower, but not of individual glory. Set in 1960s Virginia, the film centers on three pioneering African American women whose calculations for NASA were integral to several historic space missions, including John Glenn’s successful orbit of the Earth. These women—Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson, and Dorothy Vaughan—were superlative mathematicians and engineers despite starting their careers in segregation-era America and facing discrimination at home, at school, and at work

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from The Atlantic

The Atlantic8 min readTech
I Sat Through the First Stop on Facebook's Feel-Good Road Show
Amid scandal, the company is traveling across America to teach local businesses how to make it big online.
The Atlantic4 min read
The Atlantic Daily: Adapt to the Sunlight
What James Comey’s memos reveal, the legacy of a 50-year-old anti-immigration speech, a cannabis conference in Silicon Valley, and more
The Atlantic6 min readPop Culture
How the Pulitzers Chose Kendrick Lamar, According to a Juror
Jazz violinist Regina Carter explains how the jury considered the first rap, and pop, album to win the prestigious honor.