Video: Heroines of ‘Hidden Figures’ were well-known in Hampton Roads

Members of two churches in Hampton Roads, Virginia, where two of the characters portrayed  in Hidden Figures attended, saw an early viewing of the movie. Listen to what they had to say…

By Chance Meeting

When it comes to biopics, it must be remembered that the characters on-screen are not in fact characters at all. They are the representation of actual people who have lived throughout our history and the film that they inhabit is more or less a reenactment of that history.
Within the waves of movies that grace the screens of theaters throughout the year, it is easy to forget that a hefty handful of them are based on true stories. With so many films depicting real-life struggles and tragedies, it’s easy to become desensitized to their elements. When attending a private screening of a film that depicts true events in a theater filled with those who directly correlate to those events, it reminds one of the impact that these events must have had. Instead of it being just another story, the weight of it is felt in a much stronger sense, making the film all the more important.
Such was the case at the private screening of the film Hidden Figures where the audience comprised two churches that the main characters in the film had attended – one was St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church in Newport News, Virginia and the other was the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Hampton, Virginia. Many of the people in the audience knew the subjects of Hidden Figures personally, so emotions were high within the theater.
Hidden Figures tells the story of three African American women who worked as computers for the National Aeronautical Space Administration (NASA) during the Space Race of the 1960’s. The film chronicles their successes and the barriers they broke; each one of them in possession of a beautiful mind. Through their acuity they were able to advert the challenges they faced from the segregation and the inequality that were the previous norms for Black people.
Each of the three women in the film worked at NASA, but specialized in different fields. Dorothy Vaughan’s ambition was to become a “supervisor” because she naturally gravitated toward leadership. However, she faced many obstacles on account of her race and gender. Mary Jackson wanted to be an engineer for NASA, but was told that in order to do so she had to take classes at an all-white school. Probably the most prominent figure of the movie – the mathematician, Katherine Goble Johnson, found her place among the geniuses of NASA despite her race and sex. Mrs. Johnson experienced many achievements, but not without struggle. Through bravery and brilliance each of the women was able to combat the prejudices set against them.
Without the three women that are portrayed in the film, America may have surely lost the Space Race to Russia. All the odds were stacked against them in a country that expected their silence. Against all the odds they prevailed. Dorothy Vaughan became a supervisor and earned the respect she deserved. Mary Jackson got her degree in engineering and acted as a pioneer for both women and African Americans. Katherine G. Johnson’s mathematical genius was responsible for the United States getting John Glenn into space.
At the conclusion of the private showing of Hidden Figures, the room was filled with a gamut of feelings. One can only imagine how deeply it affected those in attendance who were acquainted with the women in the film.
After the film, it was a pleasure to hear from some of the viewers. One could tell the film hit an emotional chord with everyone there. The Pastor of Bethel AME Church in Hampton, Rev. Andre Jefferson, Sr., knew Mary Jackson as an older member of his congregation. He thought the movie “was a wonderful portrayal…to see her as a young lady and some of the trials that she went through.”
One viewer and fellow church member, Marshall Rouse, was mentored by Mrs. Jackson along with all of the other young African American engineers. Rouse received a degree in Mechanical Engineering from North Carolina A&T and began working for NASA (Langley) in 1977. He is now retired after 43 years of service.
Rev. Dr. Oretha P. Cross, Pastor of St. Paul AME Church in Newport News said, “It brought tears to my eyes to see Black women who fought for what they wanted and did not give up.” Dorothy Vaughan was a member of St. Paul AME during the tenure of Rev. Sidney W. Williams, Sr. who is the former Pastor. He stated, “She touched our lives in a way that we did not know until she was gone…and that touch made our lives all the better.”
Whether you have a personal attachment to the film or not, it is worth seeing for its significance in American History. Hidden Figures is a must-see film that will undoubtedly pull at your emotions, as well.