Hidden Figures tells the story of Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer), Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe), and Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson) all three women were Computers (people who did computations before electronic computers were used) at Langley NASA. It is based on a true story – all three of the women were brilliant mathematicians who made great advancements for NASA in mathematics, engineering, and computer programming.
If your kid (especially your daughter!) can pay attention during a dialogue-heavy movie, I highly recommend taking them. I consider myself a space enthusiast, and I had no idea that the “West Computers” (NASA’s term for the women-of-color Computers who were segregated and worked on the west side of Langley’s campus) existed, let alone their amazing contributions to space and aeronautics science.
To fully appreciate many of the plot points, your child should be familiar with the United States Civil Rights Movements, segregation, and Jim Crow laws. Our country’s ugly history of racial discrimination is an important conversation to have anyway, and this film shows a little of what it was like to be a person of color in a segregated state in the early 1960s.
It’s rare to see a film where the heroes are women, even rarer to see a film those women are geniuses, and rarer still where those women geniuses are black women. Nine-year-old Kitty left the theater inspired to learn more about computer programming and women’s contribution to the American Space Program.
This is a big Hollywood take on true events, so there were some liberties taken with the timeline, with names and places (most of the supporting characters are composites of people who worked at NASA rolled up to represent sentiments on women and race at the time), but according to those in the know – including the real-life Katherine Johnson – the movie is true to the main characters and the general events in the movie. According to NASA Historian Bill Barry:
“Like anything based on real-life events, there are some temporal things that, as a historian, are like, ‘eh, that didn’t really happen like that,’ but I think that the movie is true to the stories of the main characters,” he said. “On the whole I was very happy with the outcome.”
This article at History vs. Hollywood has a good breakdown of what/who was real and what was fluffed up for entertainment value is a good place to start after watching the movie with your kids.
Can I bring my nine year old to Hidden Figures?
I would say yes! As long as your child can sit through a character driven movie, I think you should ABSOLUTELY take your kids to see Hidden Figures. Just make sure that your kids are aware of the basic ideas of segregation and misogyny in the 1960s and you should be fine. Besides the racism and misogyny, there is little questionable here. There’s a mild romantic subplot, a little drinking, and some mild swearing. Kitty had a bit of a hard time paying attention during some of the scenes that were not based in NASA, but she absorbed all of the important plot points.
It’s inspiring to see the perseverance the three main characters showed while facing some really despicable discrimination. And if your child is like Kitty, she may even come away inspired to investigate a new career path!