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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.



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

September 2017

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