When Mary begins talking about her ambitions of becoming an engineer, her husband, Levi, thinks she's delusional.
"Freedom is never granted to the oppressed," he blusters. "It's got to be demanded. Taken."
"There's more than one way to achieve something," she says.
And, sometimes, indeed there is.
Hidden Figures is an inspirational exercise in understated activism. The women here do not ignore the racism that colors their lives. But they resist it not with violence or protest but with skill and persistence. Yes, they ask for the rights that are rightfully theirs. But they do so with a sense of grace, humility and patience. They don't trust the system. But they find away to work within it to achieve their goals. And they change a lot of minds along the way.
One afternoon, Dorothy and her supervisor, Mrs. Mitchell, run into each other in the bathroom—a meeting that would've been impossible before Al Harrison ripped down that sign.
"You know, Dorothy," Mrs. Mitchell says, "Despite what you think, I have nothing against y'all."
"I know," Dorothy says with a gentle smile. "I know you probably believe that." And she walks out.
It's a moment of searing self-realization, perhaps. For when the two meet again, Mrs. Mitchell hands her a new assignment: an overdue promotion that Dorothy had been fighting for throughout the movie.
Dorothy's surprised, but keeps it under wraps. "Thank you for the information, Mrs. Mitchell," she says.
"You're quite welcome … Mrs. Vaughn."
It's a beautifully understated sign of respect, that switch from Dorothy to Mrs. Vaughn, more important than the promotion itself. It's a measure of newfound equality. And in a way, for all its subtlety, it feels like the movie's greatest moment of triumph.
Hidden Figures inspires as it entertains. It acknowledges racial divisions while insisting that there's more than one way to fix them. And while it can be crass, its heart is good.