What could be better than Hidden Figures, an inspiring feel-good story about how three black women mathematicians working for NASA overcame segregation and racism to help put a man in space? How about seeing the film in a theater full of girls of color who are coders, engineers, and mathematicians in the making?
This past weekend, 20th Century Fox and Black Girls Code, an organization dedicated to helping young women of color pursue STEM subjects and careers, teamed up to hold free screenings of Hidden Figures all across the country.
“I think that this [movie shows] young girls in general that there are women in technology especially if you want to go into the math field,” Jasmine Phelps, the East Coast Program Assistant for Black Girls Code, told me. “But [it also shows] young women of color that there are people who look just like us and you can absolutely want to pursue this.”
I wasn’t exactly bright-eyed and bushy-tailed when I headed to the United Artists in downtown Brooklyn at 8:30 on a Saturday morning, but seeing the main section of the theater completely packed with girls certainly woke me up. From the intermittent laughter, applause, and scoffs of disbelief I heard during the film, it was clear that Hidden Figures had resonated with the audience. This is no surprise—it’s been the number one film in the country for the past two weekends for a reason—but I’m sure seeing these groundbreaking characters meant something different for the group of girls who plan to go into STEM fields.
“It was powerful and inspiring seeing what they had to go through to get to what they want,” Jasmyne Jean-Remy, 16, told me after the screening. “I want to be a software engineer, but I also liked how they showed them sitting around doing math all day because I like doing math,” she added with a giggle.
“The movie made me start tearing up at the end,” Jasmyne’s mother, Nicole, added. “It’s infuriating that we never knew about this before, and it was so amazing to see black women supporting each other, smart black women working together to help benefit everyone in this field of science and math."
Nicole said that it was also important for young people to see what racism and segregation looked like. “It’s just important that they keep being aware of that knowledge,” she said. “It was not that long ago. Everybody really forgets how things were back then.”
Another aspect of the collaboration between 20th Century Fox and Black Girls Code is FutureKatherineJohnsons.com, a website powered and coded by some of the students (or “tech divas”) that Black Girls Code works with. “It’s really cool that they got to code that site themselves and see it come to fruition.” Phelps said.
It’s obviously very inspiring seeing a story about black women mathematicians continue to be the number one movie in America, but it’s even more inspiring to see the direct impact of such a film on young black women who wish to pursue STEM careers.