Students learn black history from award-winning film ‘Hidden Figures’

Nine hundred students buzzing around the lobby of a movie theater chatting with friends and staff poised to see a movie that they had been studying for days. With a specially designed curriculum to accommodate it’s everyday lessons into their school work to help them recognise lessons in the movie created an impressive turnout for the movie Hidden Figures at the Hollywood Twenty movie theater in Sarasota. All thanks to the generous donors from the community.

The students were lined up to see the movie Hidden Figures, an important film about the impact of the hidden figures, Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn and Margaret Jackson – three black women who helped The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) become what it is today.

Booker T Washington High School sent 900 of approximately 1200 students and 100 teachers and volunteers and chaperones. This required 21 busses which were funded by donors from the Sarasota Community.  One donor covered the cost of the tickets, while another covered the cost of transportation.

Booker T Washington Middle School also took 100 students to see the film. Their trip was sponsored by the Newtown Nation – a charitable organization which works as a community outreach organization in Newtown.

The movie Hidden Figures is a movie based on the book by Margot Lee Shetterly, which was created to give publicity to three black female engineers who worked for NASA at a turning point in space history. The movie deals with themes such as the sexism and racism which these women faced during the time, and still face today, as engineers. It gives their history and reveals the forgotten nature of the work that these women contributed to the space race.

“The movie made me realize that there is so much more to history than we read in a book. Hearing the story from the women’s side make me think more about women’s rights,” Dylan, a student from Booker T Washington Middle School, wrote in a thank you letter to the donors that funded this trip.

In the film, the women not only express their frustration with sexisim but the racisim that was prominent at the time as well. Katherine Johnson, played by Tarjia P. Henson expresses her frustration with the segregation of rest rooms.

“There are no colored bathrooms in this building, or any building outside the West Campus, which is half a mile away. Did you know that? I have to walk to Timbuktu just to relieve myself!”

“The movie was beneficial to me because I was exposed to the achievements of a racial minority,” Christina, a student at Booker High School, said.


These responses were similar among many students from Booker Middle School who waited in line to see the movie politely and were given popcorn and water, thanks to the Newtown Nation at the movie.

“The Newtown nation thought it would be a good idea to give students exposure to the movie Hidden Figures,” Ardell Otten, a member of the Newtown Nation Board of Directors, said.

Once the idea was proposed the Newtown Nation spoke to school administration and arranged for 104 students from Booker Middle School to attend the movie. As well as seven volunteers and three members of the Newtown Nation Board of Directors.

“We chose this film because of our deep belief that exposure is important to young people especially, there’s a quote, I don’t know who it’s by but it goes something like ‘it’s hard to be what you can’t see.’ So what was the impetus for taking the students to see the movies,” Otten said.

“The impetus behind wanting to take the students to see this film is that it is a poignant and significant film for many reasons,” Michelle Anderson, a teacher at Booker High School, said.

“Primarily it gives you view into a world that many people are not even aware of. We had this large quantity of women engaged in doing the mathematical computations for NASA before the computers went online to be able to do all of that. Even more specifically African American women and the role that they played in that endeavor.”

“There were so many curricular connections. I mean you have a historical connection, just from the framework of segregation and women in society and engineering and mathematics. You’ve got social and cultural connections and those kind of dynamics at play. So for us it was an opportunity to take students to see and engage in an experience they might not have on their own and then connect it back to what they’re learning in their classrooms outside of just a textbook,” Anderson said.

If I had a physical copy of the movie I would watch it over and over again…because of the events and the cause and effects relationships,” Matthew, a student at Booker Middle School, said.

After the Oscars, despite the film losing in all three categories that it was nominated in, NASA’s Langley Research center in Hampton Virginia tweeted,  “Katherine Johnson won the Oscars!”  

Johnson was escorted on stage by astronaut Yvonne Cagle, and introduced as “a true NASA and American hero” by the cast of the movie. She then received a standing ovation.

NASA’s Langley Research center has a new building in the works, which they will name the Katherine G. Johnson Computation facility, in her honor. Because, thanks to the movie Hidden Figures, and donors who supported showing this film, here in Sarasota and across the United States,  to the eager eyes of next generation NASA scientists Johnson and the other black women who helped NASA become what is today will no longer remain Hidden Figures.

Leave a Reply