Saturday, February 25, 2017


HIDDEN FIGURES gets you metaphorically under the skin of racial and gender discrimination through the career trajectories of three African-American women – two mathematicians and an engineer - who worked at NASA in the earlier days when racial segregation was normal and legal.

It brings to mind the sociological conflict theory (Karl Marx) of power conflict that originally focused on class conflicts between the haves and have-nots, but exists today in the form of gender conflict, the digital divide, old and new citizens, and ageism.

Being black and female, the three protagonists endured open discrimination from white women and misogyny from the men, yet kept their focus on doing what they were gifted to do excellently. (It seemed to me that the saddest part was the animosity from non-black women.) However, they dignified their personhood in a way that no education or class status could attain, and no humiliation could take away. They didn't deny themselves self-respect even when others denied them due respect!

Even with the advancement of science and technology, the movie will resonate with female engineers and engineering students who are still vastly outnumbered by their male cohorts in Singapore. My childhood neighbour, who worked for IBM her entire life, was an anomaly when she studied engineering back in the days.

Some forms of discrimination have changed for good, but many still prevail behind the veil of security and job threats, and in the form of xenophobia where older migrants are hostile towards new migrants even within the same ethnic groups. 

Finally, I love this biopic not only for its women-centred theme, but also its reminder that courtesy and faith in God are personal choices more than they are cultural products.