Everyone buzzes about a blacker Oscars and the box-office success of Hidden Figures. So let us give further due to the NASA ladies by crediting their distinct approach of fighting their battles.
There exist different modes of fighting for justice. Some ideas clash. Some ideas clash but still collaborate toward the bigger goal. Some people perform stand-up comedy. Some deliver serious speeches.
Some show unapologetic anger. In the beginning of the film, Katherine (Taraji P. Henson) can’t afford to make complaints, lest she risk her job. But her boss’ chiding wears out her patience and she lets loose the storm. In an award acting highlight, Katherine gives her aloof employee a shamelessly loud speech, raises her voice in front of her other white colleagues, and makes the injustices as explicit as possible. She doesn’t skirt around the subject of oppression: the shoddy coffee machine and the mile run to the colored bathroom. She is angry. She is sassy. She is direct with the truths. And it gets through her boss’ skull.
Some are pragmatically polite. Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) uses well-placed words with the judge in a gracious “I can’t do this without you” speech to enroll in engineering courses at an all-white school. She kept her vocal resentment in the house, but in the courtroom, her manner is polite and it pragmatically paves way to her legal enrollment, and thus closer to her engineering aspirations.
Some use action and speak later. Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) proves the shrewdest. Compared to her colleagues, she uses less words. She finds time to examine the IBM machine that might usurp her position, learns to operate it, and shows the NASA crew that she’s indispensable. Once she proves herself, she finds a little more leeway to voice an implied rebuke. The snooty supervisor comes around to cordially “assure” Dorothy, “I have nothing against you,” despite spending the majority of the film snidely belittling her. Dorothy does believe in the attempt at sincerity, but she throws out an “I know… you’ll like to believe that,” with a honey-sweet smile, which translates into, I can appreciate your effort, dear, but your words won’t undo your previous actions.
Angry and gracious words and shrewd actions; there are no apologies for how these ladies achieve their promotions. Some march in the streets of Washington. Some stay at home and call their Senators and Representatives. Some write effective articles and poetry. There isn’t any one way to bypass institutional injustice. This year, Katherine, Dorothy, and Mary were promoted to the on-screen immortality of fighters who knew they deserved better, and became icons we adopt cues from.
Caroline Cao is a Houstonian Earthling surviving under the fickle weather of Texas. When she’s not angsting over her first poetry manuscript or a pilot screenplay about space samurais, she’s doing cheesy improv performances for BETA Theater, experimenting with ramen noodles, engaged in Star Wars fanfictions, or hollering vocal flash fics on Instagram. Her columns and poems have popped up on The Cougar, Mosaics: The Independent Women Anthology, Glass Mountain. Her flash fiction recently earned an Honorable Mention title in Sweater Weather magazine. She has her own Weebly portfolio and contributes thinkpieces to Birth.Movies.Death. She’s also lurking in the shadows waiting for you to follow her on Twitter.
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