‘For better or for worse, there is history, there is the book and then there's the movie’: Foregrounding and Marginalizing African American Women in the Film Hidden Figures (2016)
Keywords:affect, film, gender, race
This paper critically examines the representation of gender and race in the biographical drama film Hidden Figures (2016), directed by Theodore Melfi. The film is based on Margot Lee Shetterly’s nonfiction book of the same title, which spotlights previously hidden figures in US history: the black female mathematicians who worked in the early US space program. The movie was released to critical acclaim and embraced by audiences as empowering African American girls. At the same time, the film was criticized for including a ‘white savior’ scene in which the black female protagonists are marginalized.
After providing background information on Shetterly’s book and the film’s critical reception, this paper conducts a close formal analysis of a pivotal sequence in the film, which is compared to the events told in the nonfiction book. To shed light on the power structures that the film sequence projects, the results of this analysis are, subsequently, related to critical theoretical approaches to Hollywood cinema, as well as to Sara Ahmed’s concept of ‘affective economies.’ In conclusion, we argue that Hollywood filmmakers’ expectations about the desires of ‘mainstream’ audiences work to perpetuate the repression of previously repressed herstory on the ‘silver screen.’
Copyright (c) 2021 Timo Frühwirth, Philipp Bechtold, Elisabeth Güner, Marie-Theres Krutner
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