Hidden Figures Is Incredible, You Should Go See It

Spoilers ahead.

Hidden Figures is a film about three women “computers” — people who worked doing math calculations for NASA in the time leading up to manned orbital flights. Katherine Goble (later Johnson) is an actual math genius, who, due to her hard work and unmatched talent, pushed her way up to the Space Task Group, where her knowledge of analytical geometry earned her respect. Mary Jackson, with the encouragement of her supervisors, goes to court to secure her right to continue her education at an all-white high school, so that she can pursue her dream of becoming an engineer. And Dorothy Vaughan, frustrated by doing the work of a supervisor with neither the title nor pay that comes with it, sees an opportunity in the IBM computer; she teaches herself and those she leads to program the monstrous machine and make themselves indispensable.

It is an excellent movie. It is a movie about scientific progress, and the risks and rewards that come with it. It is also a movie about civil rights. It is a movie that demonstrates the important lesson that progress depends on progress.

There are no bad guys in this movie. I haven’t seen every movie ever, but I’ve become inured to the trope: when a movie is about racism, there is usually a big ol’ racist jerk, like an inverse white savior; for example, Hilly Holbrook in The Help. It’s a character who conveniently embodies prejudice and discrimination, and in defeating them, protagonists symbolically defeat racism. In Hidden Figures, racism is not so much a part of characterization as it is a part of the setting. White people are dismissive or ignorant, but never overtly, intentionally cruel. Racism is something that the white people in the story are simply not sensitive to until confronted with it. Kevin Costner’s character is confronted with it when he realizes that Katherine, who he relies on, has to take forty minute bathroom breaks because the nearest “colored” women’s restroom is a half a mile away. Like a good manager, realizing that the rule helps no one and hurts his team, he abolishes the rule. I think perhaps the most powerful interaction of this vein occurs in a women’s restroom between Octavia Spencer’s and Kirsten Dunst’s characters; the scene is so thoughtful and polite and well-acted that I audibly gasped.

I liked how the cinematography used color to draw attention to our leads, especially Taraji P. Henson’s character. In a room filled with white men in white shirts and black ties, where the only other woman is wearing neutral tones, Katherine Goble is wearing turquoise as brilliant as her mind. Her mug is the one brown one among alabaster ceramic. She is special, and it’s not hard to see if you’re willing to look; her rise feels hard-won yet also inevitable.

These were important stories to tell, and I’m glad to be an audience for them. I highly recommend this film.

A List of Things I Liked About “Moana”

This is simply a list of things I enjoyed about the movie Moana.

  • The soundtrack, obviously.
  • Moana is raised in a culture where her birthright is to lead, regardless of her gender. In fact, her gender never enters into it. This is in contrast to previous Disney films like Aladdin, where the female heir Jasmine must choose a prince to marry; and Mulan, where Mulan dresses as a boy to fulfill her father’s military obligation, since she would not be allowed to as a girl. Moana is expected to lead the people of her village; she also just happens to be a girl. I liked this because, while my mother grew up in the Jasmine mindset (have to marry to change my circumstance) and I grew up in the Mulan mindset (actively battling gender stereotypes), I want my nine-year-old niece to have the Moana mindset.
  • Moana doesn’t struggle because of her gender, but she does have struggles one can relate to. She questions why she would be ‘chosen’ and at one point in the movie she has to stop and address her self-doubt. Impostor syndrome writ large on the big screen.
  • Moana’s grandmother is a key figure in her upbringing, and also an important person to her community. She refers to herself as “the village crazy lady,” but she obviously has an important role involving childcare and oral tradition. I really liked how she taught Moana to be think about thinking and feeling, instead of supplying her with ready-made solutions to her problems. Gramma Tala is one of my favorite Disney characters ever, hands down.
  • I have a not-so-secret, not-so-little crush on Dwayne Johnson. He is a gleeful adult man with many muscles and good looks, and animators somehow translated those things into an animated movie character. He even sang his own song!
  • Speaking of Maui (the character played by Dwayne Johnson), what an interesting character. He used his superhuman powers for such human reasons. There was no true villain of the piece; the conflict was created when a well-intended action by Maui went completely awry, and he had to be persuaded and helped to fix it. And yet, he’s a likable guy, he just gets things wrong sometimes. Way wrong sometimes. But his biggest mistakes don’t define him — he’s more than those things.
  • Back to Moana, who at one point sings, “I’m everything I’ve learned and more.” She’s really fantastically acted by Auli’i Cravalho, who I don’t know as well as I know Dwayne Johnson. But I’ll be keeping an eye out for her in other projects.
  • Moana’s parents. They’re present (not dead, as they often are in fairy tales and Disney movies). And while they don’t see eye to eye with Moana on key things, that conflict does not drive the story.
  • There are things about the story line that could affect an audience’s suspension of disbelief. Instead of singing and dancing around them, the characters discuss these issues. And even if they don’t come to a verbalized conclusion, it was enough for me to see it acknowledged.
  • It was like The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker The Movie. Gorgeous to behold.
  • Alan Tudyk plays a chicken.

Hey hey, Heihei.

The Power of Patty Compelled Me

At a recent family event, several of my sisters were discussing how much they enjoy raunchy sitcom Broad City. “I don’t like it,” my eighteen-year-old brother said, “but I understand it wasn’t made for me.”

“What do you mean?” I asked him.

“I’m not the target audience,” he explained. “So it doesn’t really matter whether I like it or not. I’m a young, white male. A lot of things out there are made with me in mind. Broad City doesn’t have to be made for me, too. Clearly, it was made for my sisters.”

Which brings me to my thoughts on the latest Ghostbusters movie.

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I understand that many people have emotional attachments to the Ghostbusters franchise of the eighties. I recognize that those feelings may complicate one’s experience with a new Ghostbusters movie. I acknowledge that the new Ghostbusters movie has some flaws.

But. But. But. The way I feel about this movie is the opposite of how my brother feels about Broad City. I feel like this movie was made specifically for me, and I love it for that.

I have felt this way about Paul Feig movies before. Bridesmaids made me laugh and resonated with me on an emotional level. Spy made me feel like, well, I had been spied on, because not only did it include fantastic British comedienne Miranda Hart (of Miranda and Call the Midwife), it also included one of the most over-the-top acts of recent Eurovision Song Contest history. Literally every other American I know who has any knowledge of the Eurovision Song Contest has it because I told them.

For this movie, Paul Feig must have asked himself, “What specifically will make that one crazy Midwestern schoolteacher nerd like my next movie even more? Oh, I know – I’ll include her favorite SNL cast members, and especially let Kate McKinnon be super weird and really awesome!”

And that did it for me.

I loved it. Sorry if you don’t. But, clearly, it was made for me.

Teaching & Learning in “Finding Dory,” or Why Jenny & Charlie Are Awesome

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Finding Dory came out in theaters this weekend. A sequel to 2003’s Finding Nemo, it revisits the same central theme of parents losing a child, though it’s handled entirely differently. In Finding Nemo, Marlin crosses the ocean in search of his missing son. In Finding Dory, the adult child returns home seeking her parents.

My analysis gets a little spoiler-y, so if you haven’t seen it, come back after you have. Oh but wait! Before you go! Wait to leave the theater until after the credits! I promise the tag scene is well worth it.

Okay now shoo! Unless you don’t mind spoilers.

In Finding Nemo, the lost child has a physical disability that affected his ability to interact with his world – he has a small fin that impedes his swim speed. But his father Marlin has sheltered him and shielded him from challenges, so that when his son Nemo is kidnapped Marlin feels compelled to go after him.

In Finding Dory, we see, in flashbacks, that Dory is separated from her parents by accident. However, her parents had made very different choices than Marlin. Instead of overly sheltering Dory, we see through a series of memories that they’re doing their best to empower Dory. Jenny and Charlie use song and rhyme and repetition to drive home what they really want her to learn. The biggest difference between Dory’s parents and Nemo’s father is that, when their child becomes lost, they look for her — but then decide to trust that the lessons they taught her will ultimately lead her home to them. Instead of chasing her across untold distances, they sit tight and believe in Dory from a distance.

Marlin taught Nemo, “You can’t, because….” Jenny and Charlie taught Dory, “You can, despite….” Their lessons enable Dory to make friends and be safe while out and about in the ocean until she finds her way home. (I just realized that they never taught Dory, “Don’t talk to strangers.” In fact, the way she proactively approaches others for help is a huge reason she’s able to find her way home.)

Supporting characters experienced their own challenges as well, overcoming them to varying degrees of success — depending on your definition of success. Bailey the beluga whale struggled to use echolocation, but when Dory explained it to him in terms he could understand, he got a handle on using it. He reminded me of students who experience a block about reading or writing or math, then have a breakthrough and are able to acquire a new skill. Destiny the whale shark was exceptionally helpful to Dory, despite having very poor eyesight. While Bailey does help her crash into walls less frequently, she ultimately deals with her challenge by changing her environment to one where there weren’t walls to be crashing into.

Nemo was an interesting character in the sequel. He acts as a foil to Marlin while holding up a mirror so his father could see how his attitude towards Dory was affecting their relationship. When Marlin says something unnecessarily mean to Dory, Nemo doesn’t let him forget it. “You made her feel like she couldn’t do it.” That line really landed, especially considering how much Dory had accomplished by that point in the story. Nemo teaches his father to reassess how he treats Dory and make some positive changes.

Speaking of Marlin, it was nice to see his character continue to develop as well. He went through some major learning experiences in Finding Nemo, but that did not mean he knew everything now. A take-away from his arc was not needing to do and say everything right the first time, but rather learning to recognize when you say or do something hurtful and take steps to make things right, starting with an apology.10952119376

Anyway, it was quite a nice movie, and I recommend it. But now I’ll let Gerald have a turn on the rock.