Hundreds of young girls are getting free tickets to see the box office hit movie “Hidden Figures,” thanks to the work of several separate efforts around the country.
The film, which follows the true story of three black women working at NASA during the early Space Race, has received acclaim from both critics and fans. But for many, it’s more than just a movie. From a young, aspiring astronaut, to actresses, to public school teachers, many fans appreciate the film for not only for its educational or entertainment value, but also its compelling representations of black women as powerful, educated individuals, shifting perceptions of a segment of the population that has long been underscored or discredited in both history and popular culture.
The film has soared to the top of the box office with ticket sales passing those of “La La Land,” which won seven Golden Globes last week. “Hidden Figures” was projected to have raked in nearly $60 million, in total, by the close of the long weekend, only its second in wide release.
Taylor Richardson, a 13-year-old from Florida who wants to become an astronaut herself, launched a GoFundMe campaign with the goal of sending 100 girls to see the movie at Jacksonville, Fla., theater. After attending a special White House screening of the film, she felt inspired as a young woman of color, and wants to pass that experience on to other girls who may not have the opportunity to see the film otherwise.
“I cried, I laughed, I got angry and then got determined to not let others’ impressions of me because of the color of my skin impact how my life will be,” she told The Huffington Post. “These black women did something I never knew about, and it’s not in any history books that I’ve studied thus far.”
The film details the historic, and largely unknown, contributions of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson, who worked as mathematicians behind the space mission that sent astronaut John Glenn into orbit in 1962, marking the first time an American circled the earth.
By Monday, Taylor's campaign had raised more than $10,000, beating her original $2,600 goal nearly four times over. She has reached out to organizations such as the YMCA, Girl Scouts, Boys and Girls Clubs of America, Journey Into Womanhood, and See The Girl in search of girls interested in seeing the movie.
“This movie instills that us girls can dream big and make it even when odds are against us,” she added. “Most importantly I want girls to know that, like boys, they too can excel in STEM with hard work.”
Actress Octavia Spencer, who plays Ms. Vaughn in the film, bought out an entire showing of the movie at a theater in Los Angeles and offered the tickets to low-income families over the weekend.
“My mom would not have been able to afford to take me and my siblings,” she wrote in an Instagram post. “So, I'm honoring her and all single parents this #mlkweekend Pass the word.”
For young people, seeing diversity on the big screen can be a powerful inspiration. But whether through "whitewashing," when white actors are cast in traditionally non-white roles, or a lack of diverse narratives, black actresses have seen fewer opportunities to take on leading roles – and young girls and women of color have missed opportunities to watch people who look like them tell stories on the big screen.
“The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity,” Viola Davis said in her acceptance speech at the Emmy Awards in 2015, when she became the first African-American actress to win best actress in a drama, for her role in ‘How to Get Away with Murder.’ “You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.”
But calls to diversify Hollywood – both in front of and behind the camera – have gained momentum recently, and more filmmakers are recognizing the value of supporting women and minorities in the quest to tell their own stories on screen.
“It’s about creating entertainment about our world that reflects our world,” Melissa Silverstein, a writer and founder of Women and Hollywood, a site dedicated to women, film, and pop culture, told The Christian Science Monitor last January. “You look at a cast of an ensemble TV show, they just can’t get away with white, white, white [anymore]. I think what television really understands is that diversity is vitally important.”