Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Rare Beast: A Non-Writing Post

I try to reserve my posts on this blog to writing, but I guess this is about story, in a way, but no, this is really about something else entirely. Note! 'Hidden Figures' spoilers below the tear, so read at your own risk.

I saw the Movie, 'Hidden Figures' yesterday. Fantastic and I heartily recommend it. Curiously enough, there was a trailer for a movie called 'Gifted'.  I had never seen the trailer before, and it seemed to be a movie about a girl with a gift for mathematics, and how it affects her life.

I couldn't help but see the juxtaposition here, made all the more glaring by the fact the girl in 'Gifted' was white. Did that matter? Not really, but it made one look at it through the lens of privilege, when one might have just looked at it through the lens of time.  I'll brush on the privilege part, then dig more into the eras these movies represent.

To boil it down to its crudest, you have a white girl with a gift for mathematics worried about losing her childhood. You have a black girl with a gift for mathematics worried about losing her future. An unintended message here is the white girl has the luxury of being 'normal', when 'Hidden Figures' makes it clear there are brilliant women of color serving as 'computers' for NASA. Until IBM brings in one of their new fangled machines, and threatens to eliminate their positions. There is no mystery of what happens then, and it's not to rediscover their childhoods. Luckily, they learn FORTRAN right quick and stay ahead of the curve. There's no 'I'll take some time off to discover myself', but a continual race of 'sink or swim'. A sign of the times? Or a sign of the privilege?

Let's assume it's a sign of the times.  We're talking two very different eras. 'Hidden Figures' is in pre-civil rights Virginia, while 'Gifted' seems to be in the here and now. Do parents now have different priorities now? Probably. But maybe that's more a product of our prosperity, because, 'Gifted' is not marketed toward schoolkids on the cusp of mathematical genius. No, this is marketed toward parents and tugs at every fear they are 'pushing too hard' or 'coddling too much'.

I hope I'm wrong, but it seems like Gifted won't be much about the gift at all, while 'Hidden Figures' keeps it front and center. Katherine Johnson is given to us as a character that sees the world differently, and to put her into any kind of 'normal' would be to deny her capacity to be herself, which seems more of a genuine character, than some character built to be cute and play on new parent angst.

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