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HIS FPX 1150 Assessment 5 History in the Movie, Fact or Fiction


Capella University

HIS FPX 1150 U.S. History: How the Past Informs the Present

Prof. Name


History in the Movies: Facts or Fiction

In 2016, the movie “Hidden Figures” was released, depicting the remarkable story of three African American women who made significant contributions to NASA during the 1960s. Set against the backdrop of pervasive segregation in America during that era, the film sheds light on the struggles faced by African Americans in various aspects of life, including workplaces like NASA. “Hidden Figures” highlights the pivotal roles played by Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson, and Dorothy Vaughan in the intense space race to achieve milestones such as sending the first American into orbit.

Katherine Johnson: The Mathematician

The narrative focuses on Katherine Johnson, portrayed by Taraji P. Henson, who served as a mathematician at NASA’s Langley Research Center. Assigned to the Space Task Group led by Al Harrison, Katherine’s mathematical prowess becomes instrumental in calculating trajectories for rocket tests and space missions. Despite facing gender and racial discrimination, Katherine’s determination and intellect enable her to overcome obstacles and earn the respect of her colleagues, ultimately contributing to the success of pivotal missions, such as John Glenn’s orbital flight.

Mary Jackson: The Engineer

Janelle Monae portrays Mary Jackson, another trailblazing figure at NASA. Initially employed as a mathematician, Mary aspires to become an engineer. However, she encounters institutional barriers, including the requirement to complete additional coursework only offered at segregated institutions. Mary’s perseverance, supported by her mentor Karl Zielinski, leads her to petition the court for permission to attend classes, ultimately making her the first African American female engineer at NASA.

Dorothy Vaughan: The Supervisor

Octavia Spencer portrays Dorothy Vaughan, who serves as the acting supervisor for the African American “computers” at NASA. Recognizing the potential of emerging technologies, such as IBM machines, Dorothy takes initiative to learn programming languages like FORTRAN, positioning herself and her team for future roles in computing. Her leadership and technical acumen contribute significantly to NASA’s computational capabilities, earning her a historic promotion as NASA’s first African American woman supervisor.

Historical Fact from Fiction

While “Hidden Figures” accurately portrays the overarching narrative of these remarkable women’s achievements, some liberties are taken for cinematic purposes. For instance, the depiction of segregated facilities at NASA, particularly regarding restroom access, may not align precisely with historical timelines. Nevertheless, the core accomplishments of Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson, and Dorothy Vaughan remain true, reflecting their pivotal contributions to America’s space exploration efforts.

HIS FPX 1150 Assessment 5 History in the Movie, Fact or Fiction

Impact of the Movie

“Hidden Figures” has a profound impact on reshaping historical narratives, particularly regarding the involvement of women and minorities in pivotal moments of scientific history. By spotlighting the untold stories of Katherine, Mary, and Dorothy, the film inspires audiences and underscores the importance of diversity and inclusion in STEM fields. Their perseverance and achievements serve as a beacon of hope and motivation for future generations.

Changes for Improved Portrayal

While “Hidden Figures” effectively captures the essence of these women’s triumphs, certain aspects could be further developed for a richer portrayal. Emphasizing the societal challenges faced by African Americans during the 1960s and delving deeper into the characters’ personal struggles with racism could provide a more comprehensive understanding of the historical context. Additionally, showcasing Mary Jackson’s engineering achievements before the Mercury Seven project could highlight her groundbreaking contributions to NASA’s success.


Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopaedia. (2022, February 20). Katherine Johnson. Encyclopedia Britannica.

Katherine Johnson (1918-2020) | Former NASA Research Mathematician – NASA Solar System Exploration. NASA Solar System Exploration. Retrieved from

HIS FPX 1150 Assessment 5 History in the Movie, Fact or Fiction

Places of Hidden Figures: Black Women Mathematicians in Aeronautics and the Space Race (U.S. National Park Service). Retrieved from

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