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Trump should get a clue on spaceflight from ‘Hidden Figures’

Taraji P. Henson portrays Katherine Johnson in the film "Hidden Figures," set in the 1960s.
Taraji P. Henson portrays Katherine Johnson in the film “Hidden Figures,” set in the 1960s.
(Hopper Stone / AP)
Guest Columnist

Quite simply, the movie “Hidden Figures” should be required viewing in the Trump White House, in Congress, throughout the federal government, in every corporate boardroom, and in every school and university in the nation.

While the film understandably takes certain liberties — a few composite characters and the compression of time — to tell the remarkable and beyond-inspirational stories of African-American “Computers” Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson in the 1960s, it is destined to touch people from all walks of life in truly meaningful ways for years to come.

No matter that “Hidden Figures” was nominated for three Academy Awards (Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay) and won none at Sunday night’s 89th Academy Awards.

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Douglas MacKinnon of Boca Raton is a former White House and Pentagon official and served as a space consultant to the U.S. government and the private sector.
Douglas MacKinnon of Boca Raton is a former White House and Pentagon official and served as a space consultant to the U.S. government and the private sector.

When my wife and I saw the film two months into its run, the theater was still full. As I looked around, it was filled with an incredibly diverse audience. From the elderly, to teenagers, to couples, to people of color. The one thing all had in common was that when the film ended, everyone broke into spontaneous applause with a number of people giving the film a standing ovation.

President Trump should screen the film in the White House for a number of important reasons, not the least of which being the subject of human spaceflight. For within the film, Trump would see a confident and forward-looking President Kennedy articulating exactly why the United States of America had to be the pre-eminent space-faring nation on Earth and why the moon was the next logical step for the country.

For decades now, NASA has been rudderless and adrift. It has been that way because there has been little or no leadership from the president on down. No direction. Just a succession of presidents who truly did not see the value in the United States maintaining its pre-eminence in space, and who looked at NASA at best as a third-tier priority, or at worst as an annoyance.

“Hidden Figures” reminds us all that for at least one full decade, the American people were united as one in their support of a space program instilling national pride with a clearly defined and logical mission that was in the best interests of our country.

Next, on a human level, the president and Congress should screen the film to, first, be reminded of the racism and inequality that existed during that time, and, second, to then ponder what real progress has been made with regard to race relations and equality for women and all who might be discriminated against.

As a child, I grew up in abject poverty and often lived in black and minority neighborhoods. I witnessed racism up-close and personal, and after watching the film, I sat in my seat as the credits rolled, wondering what really was better in 2017 and what “Hidden Figures” with regard to racism were still being papered over?

Last, and quite wonderfully, “Hidden Figures” actually succeeds in removing the color of one’s skin from the equation. As you watch the film, at the beginning you are called to notice that Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson are African-American women dealing with racism in 1961, coupled with inequality for women. But as the film progresses, you see them simply as three incredibly strong women. You see a single mom raising her three daughters with the help of her mom as she teaches her children right from wrong. You see a wonderful nuclear family where the husband and wife support each other, and you see a loving couple.

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Instead of color, you see human dignity, courage, compassion, empathy and the will to go on against all odds.

“Hidden Figures” should be seen by all because it reminds us of what unites us as human beings and inspires us to reach for the stars and the next goal in life.

Douglas MacKinnon of Boca Raton is a former White House and Pentagon official and served as a space consultant to the U.S. government and the private sector.

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