rmc28: Rachel smiling against background of trees, with newly-cut short hair (Default)
[personal profile] rmc28
Tony and I were planning to see this last weekend, but every screening we could get to had sold out by mid-afternoon on Saturday!  So I was a bit more organised this week and got us tickets several days in advance to see the Saturday evening screening at the Arts.

I am so so glad we went to see it.  It's a really great film, with the excitement of SPACE and MATHS and ENGINEERING against the clock, clever use of contemporary footage, heartwarming scenes of family and friendship, dramatically climaxing with John Glenn's flight orbiting the earth and returning safely.  (I spent half the film thinking Chris Evans' looks had gone off a bit, but it turned out John Glenn was being played by a completely different handsome blond man.)  Also, because the film is focused on three black women working as computers for NASA during this period, there is a great deal of matter-of-fact depiction of racism and sexism.  I appreciated that it was so matter-of-fact, that the film is not about Overcoming Racism, it's about Getting Astronauts Into Space, and the racism and the ways in which it made Getting Astronauts Into Space harder is just part of the story.

I also cried a lot, because it is an amazing film, and I have come out with a burning wish to learn more about Dorothy Vaughan, who is shown teaching herself FORTRAN from a textbook, and fixing the incredibly expensive IBM by the magic of reading the manual, and teaching programming to all the women she supervised, so that when NASA needed people to be programmers rather than computers, there was a ready-made cohort ...    I've started by buying the book on which the film is based, so now I just need to magic up some time to read it.

I was amused/distracted by Jim Parsons basically playing Paul Stafford as a 1960s-era Sheldon (arrogantly-brilliant white geek annoyed at anyone being better than him, let alone a woman).  Kevin Costner played Al Harrison who was about the most sympathetic of the white people in the story, and materially responsible for getting Katharine Johnson where she was needed, but even he was a pretty poor manager.  If hit over the head with a problem, he'd solve it but he wasn't exactly going out and looking for barriers in the way of his "geniuses" getting their work done.

There's a running theme about toilet access, and Katharine having to run most of a mile across campus to use the segregated toilets, and then there is a dramatic showdown after which Kevin Costner hacks off the "Coloured" sign above the ladies loos and declares the campus toilets unsegregated.  But he's only doing it because his star computer is missing too much time in the office, and that kind of conversation (why are you out of the office so much) shouldn't have been a public showdown, and ALSO I was half expecting one of the white-boy-mathematicians to make some disparaging remark about women being too emotional, because in the real world that is entirely my experience of that kind of row. 

[rest of rant about Harrison's terrible management skills elided for now]

I loved that both Mary Jackson and Katharine Goble Johnson are shown having romantic lives with men who recognise their genius and support it.  Mary Jackson's husband clearly has his own stuff going on regarding the civil rights campaigning, but he's putting that aside to take care of the kids and bring her fancy new pencils for her night classes, and tell her how brilliant she is (which she is).  Jim Johnson seriously missteps with Katharine Goble at first, but then you see him doing the work to apologise, to make amends, to seriously court her.  There's less of that with Dorothy Vaughan - her husband shows up in a scene or two and that's about it.   But the friendship among the three women is a thing of beauty and delight.


I'm hoping to take Charles to see it, if I can make the time to do so before it leaves cinemas.



Date: 2017-02-26 09:57 (UTC)
kalypso: (Jarriere)
From: [personal profile] kalypso
It did occur to me during the pickaxe-to-the-toilet scene that the problem was not that there was a colored women's toilet in the building occupied by colored women (as we never saw anyone else there, the "colored" was superfluous but presumably part of reinforcing the idea that white women were the default), but the invisible sign saying "whites only" over the women's toilet in the main building.

But there wasn't a visually dramatic way to deal with that; peeling the "colored" sticker off the coffee pot wasn't the grand gesture they wanted.

Also, John Glenn was probably the most sympathetic white character (as signified by his hand-shaking in his first scene) though it was a far smaller role.
Edited Date: 2017-02-26 10:24 (UTC)

Date: 2017-02-26 22:33 (UTC)
kalypso: (Vote)
From: [personal profile] kalypso
I presumed Harrison had cups of coffee brought into his glass box and never bothered to notice anyone else's arrangements.

It's possible Glenn was carefully constructing his image as a Really Nice Guy who treats everyone the same, with an eye on posterity, but I think it was coming across as genuine.

Date: 2017-02-28 16:09 (UTC)
kalypso: XI (Marquis of Paterson)
From: [personal profile] kalypso
Oh, I didn't think you were saying that Glenn was devious! Just that I could construct a scenario in which he had a more complicated motivation, though I don't think the film was attempting to suggest that he was anything but a nice non-racist guy.

Date: 2017-02-26 22:11 (UTC)
shehasathree: (Default)
From: [personal profile] shehasathree
+1
Steve and I see movies very rarely, but we had an $8-tickets deal that we had to use by the end of the month, and I'm SO GLAD we did. (Made me realise how much I've forgotten about space science and the space race since I was a kid, and how much I just plain don't know about the gender and racial politics of the time.)

It Ain't Necessarily So

Date: 2017-02-26 22:24 (UTC)
gehayi: (zoesmile (dodo31))
From: [personal profile] gehayi
There's a running theme about toilet access, and Katharine having to run most of a mile across campus to use the segregated toilets, and then there is a dramatic showdown after which Kevin Costner hacks off the "Coloured" sign above the ladies loos and declares the campus toilets unsegregated. But he's only doing it because his star computer is missing too much time in the office, and that kind of conversation (why are you out of the office so much) shouldn't have been a public showdown, and ALSO I was half expecting one of the white-boy-mathematicians to make some disparaging remark about women being too emotional, because in the real world that is entirely my experience of that kind of row.

Yeah, none of that was real.

Want to know what was?

Katharine had a day when she didn't think that she could run a quarter of a mile to the segregated toilets (and, y'know, make it in time) and used the bathroom designated for white women instead.

And nothing happened.

And then the other black women started using the white women's toilet.

And nothing continued to happen.

Within a month or two, it was just the women's bathroom. Problem solved. This could have been shown narratively, but I suppose that it wasn't sufficiently dramatic. And, y'know, it didn't give the white audience a virtuous white person to identify with.

As for removing signs in general...well, the book talks a lot about one sign (I believe it said COLORED GIRLS) that was put on one table in the communal cafeteria. The black women, understandably, didn't like it. They preferred to sit together, but they didn't like being told that they had to.

Mary Jackson (IIRC) hated that sign more than anyone else did. And one day, she just shoved it in her purse. A few days later, a new sign appeared. She shoved that one in her purse too. This went on for months, someone unknown writing the signs and Mary removing them. But eventually whoever was writing the signs stopped, and no more signs appeared.

Quite a lot that's narratively dramatic didn't happen...like Mary Jackson's court hearing to go attend night classes at a segregated high school. (She and her bosses wrote lots of letters to the school board asking for said permission, and the school board said yes.)

The mean white woman boss in the movie? Didn't exist. There was a white woman who was the official supervisor of the black women when everything started. And the real woman was actually supportive and recommended the best black women mathematicians and scientists for research projects where their talents could shine.

Jim Parsons' role? His character is a composite of five or six different male scientists and/or supervisors.

Most of the changes seem to have been made to enhance the idea that this was a battle and that the black women were not readily accepted by whites. (Actually, pervasive sexism seems to have been a bigger problem among the white male workers than racism, most of whom were from the North and thus hadn't grown up with segregation; this was not true of the white women workers, most of whom were Southern.) I think that this is due to the screenwriters trying to create a plot based on conflict. You can't tell an adversarial story without an adversary, literal or figurative.

The book, by contrast, doesn't have a plot. It's more along the lines of "look at all these women and what they accomplished, and aren't they awesome?" Big difference.

Re: It Ain't Necessarily So

Date: 2017-02-27 00:13 (UTC)
gehayi: (martha jones (cedara))
From: [personal profile] gehayi
You mean for John Glenn? That happened, but with Katherine Johnson, not Dorothy Vaughan. From nasa.gov:

In 1962, as NASA prepared for the orbital mission of John Glenn, Katherine Johnson was called upon to do the work that she would become most known for. The complexity of the orbital flight had required the construction of a worldwide communications network, linking tracking stations around the world to IBM computers in Washington, DC, Cape Canaveral, and Bermuda. The computers had been programmed with the orbital equations that would control the trajectory of the capsule in Glenn’s Friendship 7 mission, from blast off to splashdown, but the astronauts were wary of putting their lives in the care of the electronic calculating machines, which were prone to hiccups and blackouts. As a part of the preflight checklist, Glenn asked engineers to “get the girl”—Katherine Johnson—to run the same numbers through the same equations that had been programmed into the computer, but by hand, on her desktop mechanical calculating machine. “If she says they’re good,’” Katherine Johnson remembers the astronaut saying, “then I’m ready to go.” Glenn’s flight was a success, and marked a turning point in the competition between the United States and the Soviet Union in space.

(In that era, men were men and women were girls. Women even referred to themselves that way.)

Re: It Ain't Necessarily So

Date: 2017-02-28 16:19 (UTC)
kalypso: (Arthur whimper)
From: [personal profile] kalypso
Re IBM, there was a scene where Dorothy Vaughan sneaked into the computer room, looked at the mainframe which the men couldn't get to work, said "well, that's in the wrong place", pulled a cable out of slot A and plugged it into slot B, and the whole thing came to life.

Re: It Ain't Necessarily So

Date: 2017-02-28 16:22 (UTC)
gehayi: (Default)
From: [personal profile] gehayi
Oh! Thanks. I don't recall anything like that happening in the book, sorry.

Re: It Ain't Necessarily So

Date: 2017-02-28 16:16 (UTC)
kalypso: (Garak)
From: [personal profile] kalypso
I have noticed in many dramatisations that (a) they insist on rewriting a quiet success as a VERY DRAMATIC AND CONFRONTATIONAL SCENE, and (b) that the very dramatic and confrontational scene is the least convincing bit of the story. If you think "surely not" while watching a true-life drama, nine times out of ten it seems to turn out "no, definitely not".

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rmc28: Rachel smiling against background of trees, with newly-cut short hair (Default)
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