The film Hidden Figures depicts a time not mythologically different from our own —or more specifically, the historical context of the film (which takes place in the early 1960s, just before the landmark overturning of segregation in The Civil Rights Act of 1964) was made relevant to contemporary audiences via the utilization of cinematic significations, by way of the interplay of symbolic representations of race and gender. This usage of signification was necessary to create the dramatic effect that audiences have come to anticipate from their collective experience of cinematic mythology, from the storytelling —or in this case— the retelling of a nonfiction, a recognition of the achievements of three scientists who happen to be black and happen to be female.
The production design was aseptically clean and perfectly arranged in its symmetry and purity —identical props were often present in the crash points of key shots, the hallways were always spotless, the movements of extras were seamlessly and sublimely choreographed, even the child’s drawing of her mother was aesthetically pleasing as an object of organic perfection. This was a quality that was essential in drawing attention to the films’ dramatic tensions of inaccuracies in mathematical computation and the inevitable shock value that would be experienced by contemporary white audiences in their viewing of the mythology of systemic racism and sexism (which is mythological to them as it can only be symbolically represented and never experienced as a pure reality). The aseptic whiteness of the production design carried a subtext that whispered into the subconscious of the viewer, “This is not our reality as we know it today. Our Golden Age could have been perfect if it was not for our lack of progress in science, gender equality, and racial equality.” It is almost as if the film itself has appeared at a time when Americans are in dire need of reassurance that these boundaries have been overcome —the film serves as a means of sublimating our collective desire for social justice.
Monumental statues —themselves being phallic symbols of white masculine domination over ethnic and gender minorities— were seen throughout the film on campuses, near courthouses, and other significant locations. These monumental statues indeed exist in our present day society from the exact same cinematic vantage point from which the audience views them —that is to say, these statues are presented on screen in their ‘real’ life state, which is that of a perfected phantasm, a monument to the simulated history of America. The three women scientists also partake in bourbon or some other dark liquor at one point in the film, which is in itself a symbol of masculinity and particularly of white privilege (one is reminded of the mention of 'white man's burden' during the bar scene in Kubrick's The Shining). Their dark liquor is kept hidden away in a mason jar, which carries its own symbolic connotation of the clandestine male domination of America, which has arguably been achieved with the aid of the rampant proliferation of pleasures and intoxications. The phallic monuments are significations of the pain of male domination over the black women and the brown liquor serves to mute the effects of that pain much in the same way whiskey will cause a man to lose his ability to achieve a firm erection, an erection that can sexually satisfy a female or harm one.
There is a key point of symbolism in the film when the lead character, Katherine Johnson (played by Taraji Henson), spontaneously attends a meeting with high ranking military and government officials and she is handed a piece of white chalk so she can calculate the re-entry coordinates of John Glenn’s spacecraft. The hand off of the small piece of white chalk was shown with the chalk almost dead center, and the hands of Kevin Costner and Taraji Henson at complementary points of interest on the screen. The image served two specific means, although other meanings could easily be extracted from the image. First of all, Costner’s character did not suffer a xenophobia about handing Henson an item, yet this was not actual skin contact, but a vicarious experience of sensuality for the military personnel, a skin contact by proxy for Costner's character —much as a child imagines her lips touching those of her crush when she drinks from his cup. This is the climax of the emotional tensions experienced between these two characters. There is also a second meaning to be extracted from this gesture, the message was a silent means of granting the permission to Katherine Johnson to humiliate the gathering of powerful white men with a symbol of their inferior sexuality, to beat them at their own game of calculation with a tiny piece of white chalk—this was the moment of the revelation of Katherine Johnson’s powers of computation, her perfect 'blackboard moment', where her own genius as a mathematician was laid out on the chalkboard before the high ranking officials. This was her subjugation of these men —but granted only with the permission of a high ranking, powerful white male.
The ultimate message of Hidden Figures, perhaps created unconsciously or as the result of an intellectual backfire by director Theodore Melfi, is that of a subtle piece of propaganda showing white and black audiences that our world could be perfect if it were not for our problems of racism and sexism, which are perhaps the result of a decline in intellectual faculties and reasoning —that is to say that rampant xenophobia and misogyny are the products of the stupidity of white males, although admittedly downplayed as male stubbornness in the film— however, Hidden Figures itself is littered with reminders that white domination is in fact our reality and that throughout American history the imbeciles have always decided exactly when freedoms will be handed to the ethnic and gender minorities for their use as a means of intellectual expression. In other words, the film declares the reality of the theme of white domination throughout American history, and rather than confronting the evils of capitalism directly, the film welcomes blacks and females as conspirators in the evils of capitalism —such as the destruction of the environment, such as class exploitation and the erasure of the third world and the cold war on communism. The audience is hoodwinked into thinking the film is a celebration of the achievements of these three women, when in fact it is an inadvertent celebration of their subjugation at the hands of white men—a message to which the viewer is comfortably, never overtly made aware.
Composer, Artist, Writer