KUNM

'Hidden Figures' A Hit With Young Women Of Color Interested in STEM

Jan 8, 2017
Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're going to talk about "Hidden Figures" for just a few more minutes. The movie is just out this weekend, but it is already a hit with young women of color who are interested in science, technology and math.

SASHA WILLIAMS: So my name is Sasha Williams. I am 15 years old.

MARTIN: Let's just say Sasha is a fan.

SASHA: That was one of the best movies I've ever seen (laughter). It was a really inspiring movie. It was so interesting to see women who look like me during that time period do something that I am interested in doing in my life.

MARTIN: Sasha lives in Danville, Calif., and she's a member of the Oakland chapter of Black Girls Code. That's a group that supports young women of color who want to learn more about coding. Kimberly Bryant founded the group.

KIMBERLY BRYANT: Our goal is to really have young women of color embrace the tech marketplace and the tech innovation space as both leaders and creators.

MARTIN: Over the next week, Black Girls Code is taking some 1,500 young girls and their families from 11 chapters nationwide to see the movie for free as part of a project they're calling Future Katherine Johnsons. It's sponsored in part by 20th Century Fox, the studio behind the film.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "HIDDEN FIGURES")

JANELLE MONAE: (As Mary Jackson) Mr. Zielinski, I'm a negro woman. I'm not going to entertain the impossible.

OLEK KRUPA: (As Karl Zielinski) And I'm a Polish Jew whose parents died in a Nazi prison camp. Now I'm standing beneath a space ship that's going to carry an astronaut to the stars. Let me ask you - if you were a white male, would you wish to be an engineer?

MONAE: (As Mary Jackson) I wouldn't have to. I'd already be one.

MARTIN: But some of the girls couldn't wait for that to see it. Budding coder Kai Morton lives in San Francisco, and she says she was really inspired by Dorothy Vaughan, played by Octavia Spencer.

KAI MORTON: She's one of the main characters, and she kind of started as a computer.

MARTIN: But Kai liked that Dorothy Vaughan taught herself the coding language Fortran.

MORTON: And that's kind of how they kind of survive in NASA instead of losing their jobs when IBM started bringing in the actual computers. So I thought that was amazing to see, like, that these stories are so true and just the words are so powerful and the message behind it.

MARTIN: Kai is 17 years old and applying to colleges now, looking at computer science and gaming development degrees. But she's daunted by what lies ahead.

MORTON: I'm going to a school in the bay area right next to Silicon Valley, but always there's going to be people that look at you weird because they don't really think that you can do what they can because you don't really fit the image of the typical white male geek. And that's kind of harmful.

MARTIN: But she says the movie gave her confidence a boost.

MORTON: Probably was the most amazing thing and, like, the best message about the movie, that there's so many people we don't see in the mainstream media. But when we kind of take a deeper look, we can see how much people like Katherine Johnson can make a difference but be behind closed doors for a long part of their lives and lifespan.

MARTIN: And Sasha Williams agrees.

SASHA: I just hope it inspires anyone to know that they can overcome barriers no matter who's in their way and they can achieve what they're trying to do.

MARTIN: That's Sasha Williams, aged 15, and Kai Morton, aged 17, young coders in training who say they are inspired by the movie "Hidden Figures," out in theaters now. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.