Question: Describe at least ONE character or individual in the text(s) that helped you to understand an important message. Explain how the character or individual helped you to understand the message, supporting your points with visual and / or oral language features
Prejudice that we learn from our childhoods are often so deeply ingrained within us that we do not notice our mindset affects the others around us. In the film, Hidden Figures, directed by Theoore Melfi, three African-American women who work at NASA in the 1960’s are faced with prejudice from the law and from personal prejudice of other co-workers. Vivian Mitchell, the supervisor of the ‘white computers’ shows this subtle prejudice towards Dorothy Vaughn, an African-American co-worker. Throughout the text, the relationship between them develops and Vivian helps me understand the important idea of: changing and unlearn subtle prejudice is able to be achieved - as long as we can understand what needs to be changed.
Vivian and Dorothy are first presented to the audience with a conversation regarding the position of Dorothy. The working conditions of the ‘white computers’ in the west wing of NASA is significantly superior to the basement-like conditions of the ‘coloured computers’ in the east wing. During this confrontation, Vivian comes to the east wing to assign something to one of the ‘coloured computers’, during which, shots of Dorothy and Vivian show a camera angle that makes Dorothy look much shorter than Vivian by taking up less space on the screen. This presents the social hierarchy of race in the era of the ‘60s where coloured are discriminated just for the colour of their skin. When Dorothy inquires about her application for a position as a supervisor, Vivian stubbornly denies the position with the dialogue “Things are working just fine as is”, further displaying her comfort of being superior and higher on the social hierarchy. She had clearly not considered how it felt like to be Dorothy as when asked about the decision, she replied with the dialogue “I didn’t ask why”.This mindset of subtle prejudice is something that many women in that era shared, and stems from childhood and the environment that they were raised in, making it a hard thing to acknowledge for Vivian.
Later in the film, Vivian and Dorothy meet again in one of the bathrooms. As the bathrooms had recently become desegregated, Vivian addresses the tension between her and Dorothy, as she believes now that the law has made them equal. With the dialogue “Despite what you may think, I have nothing against y’all”, Vivian tries to equalise their relationship and downplay her own racial prejudices. However, as an audience we are able to see that she still holds them as her body language is directed away from Dorothy, and Vivian rarely makes eye contact - a sign of disrespect. In addition, throughout the dialogue, Vivian addresses Dorothy by her first name while Dorothy addresses Vivian as “Mrs Mitchell” as a sign of respect, showing that the subtle racism is still present. Dorothy however, notices this and allows Vivian to understand her racism through the dialogue “I know, I know you probably believe that”. This courageous statement from Dorothy allows me to understand the important idea that to change, you must know what you are doing wrong - and that we must help others see what they cannot see for themselves.
The relationship between Dorothy and Vivian resolve into a balanced one in a scene near the end of the film. After Dorothy’s recent success with the IBM machine, Vivian meets up with her to give her the role of a supervisor for the IBM machine team. This in itself is an acknowledgement of equality, however, the real prejudice lies in the human judgement from others. Vivian, in her dialogue with Dorothy, addresses her formally for the first time in the film, “You are quite welcome, Mrs Vaughn”. It can be said that this is a greater step towards equality for the ‘coloured women’ of the 60’s, and Vivian herself - as she has overcome her subtle racism and is actively using her privileges as a woman in power to help other women. The camera angles place the two women at equal height, accentuating this newfound respect and equality. The change of Vivian’s character allows me to understand that change is possible when we understand what needs to be changed, and that prejudice from the heart is far more important than that of the law.
In conclusion, the characters of Dorothy and Vivian helped me to understand the important idea of change, and how it can be done by anyone, anywhere - although it is hard and we need to acknowledge our own subtle prejudices. I also learnt that being equal in law is only one step towards greater equality, as words and actions will hurt others as well, and is harder to change - thus we are still battling with the issue of racism today. We are encouraged, as an audience, to help others notice their own actions and thoughts - and also to reflect on how we treat others in our daily conversations.
Thank you for any feedback, I’d greatly appreciate it!