Hidden Figures – uncovering the work and worth of women

[I am honored to host a guest post from Judy Douglass, co-leader (along with her husband Steve) of Campus Crusade for Christ International, who brings insight from her lifetime of work in bringing Jesus’ love to people across the globe. As she writes here about women and their work in a hostile world, you see it is based on firsthand knowledge of women she has worked with both here in the States and in developing countries around the world.]

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My stomach knotted

Already? Would there be trouble even in the opening scene?

Three young black women on their way to work at NASA in the early 1960s stalled on the side of a country road. As the “mechanical one” worked to fix the problem, a police officer pulled up behind them. Cheerfulness turned to confrontation.

My whole body tensed as I remembered such encounters in books I had read, in movies I had seen, in stories my friends had related. Gratefully “working at NASA” rescued them and the officer escorted them to their jobs.

Seeing the Hidden Figures

I attended the showing of Hidden Figures with the global leaders of Cru.  It’s become tradition at the annual Executive Team retreat to take a break and attend a current significant movie.

I asked why Hidden Figures was chosen, though there were other important films available in the same theater.  Steve Sellers, vice president and U.S. director, explained:

“I wanted to see the movie to help broaden my understanding of racial issues in our country, to see places were we have made progress as a country, and to deal with the reality of how much further we have to go. It helps us in ministry whenever we can better understand the culture in which we operate in order to be more effective to do what God calls us to do. The more I understand about these issues, the more compassionate I am about other peoples’ journeys.”

The film is the story of three brilliant and remarkable young black women who made a significant impact on America’s early manned space efforts and later the successful endeavor to put a man on the moon.

These delightful, determined ladies faced double trouble at NASA. No one there believed women could do much more than secretarial work, much less high math and engineering. Promotion and credit for their work were rare.

But their skin color relegated them to another building, where a colored bathroom met their needs. A separate coffeepot marked “colored.” Remarks that the trash needed to be emptied.

I found myself deeply identifying with them.  I have many friends of color and have wept at the discrimination they have experienced, at the bigotry that prevails, at the injustice that endures.

Progress, but still work in progress

Personally I have spent more than 30 years advocating for greater development and opportunity for women in our ministry.  We have seen great progress, but more work awaits.

Every time Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) or Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae) was put down, demeaned or devalued, my heart sank.  Tears flowed.

Every time one was affirmed, approved or found success, tears of joy fell.

And every time Al Harrison (Kevin Costner) stood up for the women, tore down the “colored signs” and believed in them, I rejoiced, even as I have for the men who have stood with me as brothers on behalf of our staff women.

Ken Cochrum, Cru’s VP for Digital Strategies, added this reflection: “The movie was powerful, eye-opening and disturbing. How, if we seemed to make so much progress 50 years ago, can our nation continue to be stuck in so many racially denigrating attitudes and cultural behaviors?”

As we left the theater, Andrea Buczynski, our vice president for Leadership Development/HR, and I confessed we had cried through much of it.  And several of the men admitted they had shed a few tears as well. Andrea posted on Facebook:

“If you’re looking for a great movie this weekend, go see Hidden Figures. I highly recommend it. In fact, don’t miss it. Seriously.”

I agree.  Don’t miss it.

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judy-sos-2012-red-shirt-compressedJudy Douglass is a writer, speaker, encourager, and I find every time we interact I come away feeling tremendous care and support.  She partners with her husband, Steve, to lead Campus Crusade for Christ globally, and writes at www.judydouglass.com. You can also find her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter.

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18 Responses to Hidden Figures – uncovering the work and worth of women

  1. Tim says:

    Judy, thank you for this guest post. Your colleagues’ reflections and your own experience in serving women around the world are helpful in seeing that this film is about much more than just what happened at NASA decades ago. Women are still being “put down, demeaned or devalued” and it makes my heart sink too.

  2. Angie says:

    I agree with Ms. Douglas; the racism compounded with sexism makes this movie a must-see hard-watch. “Hidden Figures” is a compelling story on many counts. May we all do better in recognizing the equality and strengths of each other.

  3. I haven’t seen this movie yet but have heard so many wonderful things about it. I really appreciate the vp’s explanation of why they were going to see the film: for awareness, AND for the greater compassion that that awareness would generate. Thank you, Judy, for writing this post and Tim for hosting it, for reminding us of the need for justice and compassion.

  4. Nancy2 says:

    Intelligence and talent are not defined and bounded by race, creed, or sex. Opportunities should not be defined or bounded, either.

  5. Muff Potter says:

    I look forward to seeing the movie. Just the math interest alone is enough for me, but story-lined with women who loved math carries an even greater draw! As an aside, I heard a snippet in a you tube vid about a ship building facility on the Baltic in North Eastern Germany where they train women to “man” large gantry cranes of huge tonnage. The narrator said that women are mostly chosen because they can keep their cool in the heat of critical danger better than most men can.

  6. Esperanza says:

    1) I like that you ask why Hidden Figures was selected. It seems to convey freedom to question, trust, and mutual respect.
    2) What a great answer.

    • Oh yes–freedom to ask. I ask a lot of questions and perhaps feel more freedom than many. But we have committed to a learning environment, which must include freedom to ask and helps encourage growth. And yes, a good answer reflecting an emphasis we have had to grow in understanding of and growth in diversity. Thanks Esperanza.

  7. jeanelane says:

    Judy, The answer to your question is huge and spoke to my heart. It would be the reason I would want to see this movie. I am not much of a movie-goer. It saddens me so much to think that the turbulent times of the 1960’s and early 1970’s seems to be “for what?” when viewed next to the 2010’s. I was too young back then to really understand what was happening. Now I must do something to understand in order to be more Christ-like, and more that I can’t put into words.

    • Jeanelane, yes it is disheartening that progress is so little. I am encouraged that this was the biggest movie of the weekend when it opened, men and women of all colors attended and people I talked with were stirred. So pray that “waking up” leads to action.

  8. Persis says:

    Thanks for the review, Judy. I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I listened to the audio of the book multiple times. As a 1st generation Asian American, I also want an answer to this question – “How, if we seemed to make so much progress 50 years ago, can our nation continue to be stuck in so many racially denigrating attitudes and cultural behaviors?” I hope HF will be more than a “feel good” movie about the past but will provoke Christians to examine our current attitudes.

  9. Laura Droege says:

    I’m not much of a movie goer, but my almost-14-year-old daughter thought her depressed mama (me) “needed a break from life” and suggested that our family watch it; she thought it might be something I’d be interested in. So my husband, my two daughters (ages 13 and 9), and myself watched it. Excellent film. Both daughters liked it, too. My husband’s only complaint was that the equations on the chalk board didn’t look like trajectory equations; he’s a rocket scientist for NASA, so I’ll take his word for that! He thinks the actual equations were changed for dramatic purposes. And yes, he liked the movie anyway.

    Like you, I braced myself for a negative confrontation in that scene with the police officer. The irony is that the police officer ended up showing more enthusiasm for the women working at NASA than their white male colleagues did: he ushers them to Langley, sirens wailing, speeding no less, and then the women arrive to colored facilities, separate coffee pots, and put-downs.

  10. You have a thoughtful daughter. How special for the whole family to go together–and then be able to talk about. Your husband’s assessment may well be correct–I wouldn’t know. Math always astounds me. There were many hurtful scenes/encounters, but gratefully some people were kind–and thoughtful. I enjoyed watching various ones become aware. Enjoy your girls!

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