Thursday, January 19, 2017

Hidden Figures (2016)

Apollo 13 has always been the most compelling story from the U.S. space history for me. Yes, I've met with the Japanese astronaut, Dr Mamoru Mohri but (probably because Dr Mohri didn't talk so much about his work in the Space Station) I isn't feel as excited as I'd want... perhaps because going to space has already been done by many people and it is not as pioneering as before... they think.

Anyway, a movie about women empowerment called Hidden Figures was showing so Joycelyn invited Daddy and me, along with her parents, to watch it with her. I had no clue what it was because I never heard about it but I totally enjoyed seeing the movie.

It's about three African-American women working at NASA at the dawn of the Space Age. They were math wizards (human computers), who could calculate space vehicle trajectories on pen and paper... this was, after all, way before the IBM computer was used routinely. They worked in a society in which people of colour were segregated from Caucasians and women had more limited gender roles... they were the primary caregivers for their families and arm candy for their husbands. The three highly educated women were certainly sore thumbs sticking out. And they gained the respect of their peers (men in coats and ties) when the more results-orientated scientists and astronauts showed that they weren't concerned with gender and with skin colour. To them, reaching the moon was the objective. They couldn't care less about the politics of how to get there.

For a scientist like me, this movie is an eye-opener. I identified with those women... or at least my aspirations aligned with theirs: get educated; be good at what they do to help the best way they can; and be there for their kids and for their husbands. I have to work doubly as hard as my peers to be deemed as competent as they are because they are men and are non-Filipino, like these women in the movie, surrounded at the work space by white men. Suddenly, I felt that I wasn't alone... what my experiences are were something that these pioneers also went through, in a tougher world even.

And so, I highly recommend this movie to budding women scientists... and to scientists of any colour. The first step to overcome discrimination, after all, is to recognise that bias exists.