WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD! If you have not seen Hidden Figures yet, and don’t know the story, maybe stop reading now. Perhaps I can suggest some additional reading here.
The double meaning of Hidden Figures is not lost on me. Katherine Johnson, played by Taraji P. Henson, was able to solve the “hidden” math needed to launch the late great astronaut John Glenn into orbit during the “Space Race” of the 1960s.
Dorothy Vaughan, played by Octavia Spencer, was able to decipher the complicated figures associated with coding the first non-digital (non-human) computers at NASA.
Mary Jackson, played by Janelle Monáe, was able to maneuver around hidden regulations to become NASA’s first black female engineer.
Each of these women were quite literally hidden figures in the history of America.
That these women achieved these great feats in the midst of the Civil Rights movement is awe-inspiring, to say the least.
I see so much of myself in these ladies (Minus the math. I’m a writer for a reason), but what threw me was one simple question I asked myself: why do I not know this story already?
Imagine the confidence and self-esteem I could’ve built knowing that 3 black women were absolutely crucial in helping launch a man into outer space for the first time!
Beyond inspired, and definitely motivated, I started to dig for more information on other key female visionaries. I was determined to learn Female History 101.
The Shield Maidens of Lore
I decided to start way, way back in history from about 800 A.D. to the 11th century; the time of the Vikings.
I am in love with the show Vikings on the History Channel. I suppose that in addition to the sexy, bearded men to gawk at, I am drawn to characters like Lagertha and her bad ass group of shield maidens.
Not only do they fight fiercely alongside Ragnar and his men, they do it with fierce hair, makeup, and wardrobe. #FLAWLESS. But when I tried to nail down concrete proof that these women truly existed, I was met with lots of speculation.
Many articles are on the fence about it. Although archaeologists and historians have some evidence of these female warriors, nothing is entirely conclusive.
The accepted idea is that since a lot of what we know of these Scandinavian beauties is through sagas and tales, the proof is not reliable.
But if you ask me, all fairytales have some truth to them, so I’m going with the notion that shield maidens are the fucking real deal.
Fanm Nan Revolisyon
That’s Haitian Creole for “Women of Revolution.” My Haitian-American parents used to tell me stories of the Haitian Revolution and it’s key figures, but I never knew that female slaves were just as much a part of the largest and most successful slave rebellion as the male slaves were.
One particular revolutionary woman, Marie-Jeanne Lamartiniere, was a Haitian soldier in the revolution. She fought heroically in the Battle of Crête-à-Pierrot in 1802, but little else is known about her.
Despite her anonymity, Marie-Jeanne deserves to be honored and respected in the world’s history books.
The DNA scientist that’s M.I.A. in history
Rosalind Franklin’s story is the quintessential example of a woman whose legacy was robbed by men. Franklin was a British chemist, biophysicist, and x-ray crystallographer who was the first true discoverer of DNA’s double helix structure.
She was working in the same lab as Maurice Wilkins when one day, without her permission, Wilkins shared Franklin’s x-ray photo of the DNA structure (commonly referred to as Photo 51) with James Watson and Francis Crick.
All 3 men went on to win the 1962 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their discovery, while Franklin died in obscurity 4 years beforehand.
The artist that didn’t get her limelight
Margaret Keane was the talented artist behind the famed “big-eyed waifs” paintings from the 1960s. But her husband Walter Keane took the credit for most of her career.
Margaret was often locked up in their home studio, painting whatever Walter asked for. But Margaret soon became frustrated with their arrangement and began the fight to own her work.
After a nasty divorce accompanied by a unique and rather bizarre court case, Margaret finally got the recognition she deserved.
The modern-day movie revolutionaries
Fast-forward to present day and Hidden Figures is performing beyond expectation.
Hidden Figures dominated the box office during it’s opening weekend, going up against mega-movie Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’ And in it’s second weekend, Hidden Figures blew Ben Affleck’s Live By Night and Martin Sorcese’s Silence out of the water.
The massive success of Hidden Figures proves two things. First, movies with black female leads can easily bring in the big bucks and break records in Hollywood.
Second, America is very interested in the untold stories of female history and, I presume, we are hungry for more.
From all this research, I learned that some women in history have had their accomplishments questioned. I learned that some female change-makers don’t always receive the recognition they deserve.
And I learned that some heroes don’t wear capes, they wear really, really chic ’60s fashion.