I’ve had to forego my guilty pleasure of sitting in a darkened cinema each Monday so far this year because I’ve been too busy working on an exhibition at the Heidelberg Historical Society (exciting details to come!) But it’s all bedded down now, and so I can return to my beat into the city, onto the tram up Swanston Street to Melbourne Uni, down to Lygon Street and into the cinema Nova to catch a movie that is almost inevitably on its ‘last days’.
Not this time though- it was the garish Northland Hoyts, in order to use up free tickets that Mr Judge had won in a footy tipping competition last year. (Not only do I only catch exhibitions and films just as they’re closing, but we often find ourselves using up coupons and vouchers the day before they about to expire.) I’d heard good things about ‘Hidden Figures’, and so catch it we would. It is based on the experiences of three African-American women who worked at NASA in 1961.
It is a good story, massaged though it is for film-making purposes. For example, although the three real-life women in this film did indeed work for NASA, they did not all start work there at the same time or travel to work together. Many of the white characters were invented or a composite, and the toilet-sign smashing scene never occurred. Perhaps I should let go of my discomfort at such narrative practices, although I think that NASA might have felt a little miffed, given that they had desegregated in 1958. However, even if the most egregious elements of segregation had been eliminated, the pettiness and degradation of small acts of both deliberate and unconscious prejudice is pervasive. And as my friend Lynne pointed out when we were discussing the movie over lunch, it was interesting and unusual to see middle class African-American families in the 1960s depicted on the screen.
I did find the tone of the movie a bit saccharine, though. Maybe that’s to be expected, given that the whole NASA enterprise was shot through with American patriotism – an emotion and a political stance that I’m not personally comfortable with. I was also conscious that this film would have been conceptualized and produced during Obama’s presidency, and wondered how the politics of pre-Trumpian American fed into it. Nonetheless, a good film that brings three unknown African-American pioneers right to the front of stage, hidden no longer.