The black women who pioneered space travel

A scene in Hidden Figures. (AP)
A scene in Hidden Figures. (AP)

Cape Town - A movie featuring the action hero likes of Taraji P Henson, Octavia Spencer and Kevin Costner might not immediately strike one as being of inspiration to young maths and science boffs.

However, a film about black female scientists who put the first astronauts into space is another matter.

Last Sunday, the computer training institute, Africa Teen Geeks, and City Press co-hosted students from Soweto and Belfast, Mpumalanga, at a screening of the film blockbuster (and Oscar awards contender), Hidden Figures.

Hidden Figures tells the story of three black women who had to overcome massive racial and gender prejudice in their quest to be recognised as scientists.

As a result of these women’s ground-breaking engineering and mathematical skills, Nasa was able to send the first astronaut, John Glenn, into orbit around the earth in 1962 and bring him back safely to earth.

The young audience really got emotionally involved in the movie, with spontaneous cheering and clapping breaking out every time these women scientists broke down another cultural barrier.

The screening took place at The Zone @ Rosebank. Prior to screening, a panel discussion of experts tackled various aspects that would be addressed by the film.

The panel consisted of: Thabo Molekoa, CEO Thyssenkrupp Industrial Solutions (Sub-Saharan Africa); Toby Chance, DA shadow minister for small business development; Dr Ntombi Khumalo, Johannesburg mayoral committee member (MCM) for corporate and shared services; and Dr Mpho Phalatse, Joburg MCM for health and social development.

The facilitator was Mitchell Hughes, Wits departmental head of Information Systems. The young students were encouraged by all the panellists to think positively and to chase their dreams.

“I think it’s important for young girls to believe in themselves,” said Khumalo.

“We must be comfortable with who we are,” commented Phalatse.

Molekoa urged men to play their part in inspiring young girls to choose Stem (science, technology, engineering and maths) careers.

The panel, all high achievers in their own right, agreed that their physical and biological features had never affected their career choices or their performances.

Thando Chabula, who brought his son along, said: “I would like to see more township kids seeing such movies.”