Hidden Figures

I am unavailable to march today, but one of my sorority sisters is attending the Women’s March in DC and offered to make a sign listing the names of those of us there in spirit, and I asked her to include my own.  In the meanwhile, I’m going to give a shout out to a movie featuring some other awesome women: Hidden Figures.

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This biopic follows three African-American women at NASA during the space race of the 60s. Though some of it is a bit dramatized, it is all based on real life. I saw it opening weekend and loved it…and apparently so did a lot of other people.  In its opening weekend it actually beat Rogue One (which had already been out a few weeks, but was playing in nearly twice as many theaters) at the box office, and held on to the #1 spot over MLK Jr. weekend, too.  It’s a great movie for anyone to enjoy, but I would really encourage all young women especially to see it.

On to the science!

Katherine Goble (Taraji P. Henson) is a brilliant mathematician working as a “computer” at Langley Research Center and is assigned to the Space Task Group to help with the calculations for the launch and landing of Alan Shepard and John Glenn.  In Glenn’s case, putting a man into orbit around the Earth has never been done, so there isn’t a mathematical model for the situation.  Rather than looking at it as an “applied math” situation from a physics perspective, Goble finds a purely mathematical model that simply fits the numbers.

My favorite quote from her: “So, yes, they let women do some things at NASA, Mr. Johnson, and it’s not because we wear skirts.  It’s because we wear glasses.”  I think I related to her most of all the women.

Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) is an aspiring engineer, attempting to take night classes at a white high school. She is supported in this by her Polish-Jewish boss, but her husband (Aldis Hodge) is more hesitant.  I liked how the movie showed the struggle for civil rights not as one united movement pushing forward to a single goal, but going in fits and starts, with many different foci, sometimes at odds within the movement (white women especially don’t appear as allies here).  When Mary doesn’t want their young kids to see the news about a firebombing of a bus, her husband replies, “Everybody needs to see this.”  It was a powerful moment for me, thinking about present day events: videos captured on phones and uploaded, violence against innocent people that can no longer be hidden.  If we want to change the world, we have to face it first.

Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) watches as men install the IBM that may put her whole staff of computers out of a job.  So she learns FORTRAN from a library book and starts working with the machine.  But she doesn’t stop there…she teaches her entire staff of African-American women how to program as well, ensuring that the whole group is kept on to work with the IBM.  Now that’s “leaning in.”

So the science part is great.  But the movie also shows these women as not just scientists, but leaders in their community as well.  They are moral women; we see them going to church, raising children, and participating in positive relationships with good men.  They support each other in their struggles and ambitions.

I was so impressed with the marketing for this movie.  It did a great job focusing on the three leading women in advertisements, so much so that I was surprised by the appearance of several white or male actors during the movie because I hadn’t even realized they were going to be in it.  I think this shows that a movie featuring black women can perform well, and hopefully Hollywood will taken this lesson from Hidden Figures and give us more.

One last note: the movie also shows astronaut John Glenn in a very good light, a point of pride for us in Ohio.  He unfortunately didn’t get to see it before he passed away last year, but it was a wonderful tribute to him.  (They also just renamed the Columbus airport for him recently.)

So if you are looking for sometime to do this weekend that will both entertain you and make you think about how far we have come–and how far we have to go–I highly recommend checking out a showing of Hidden Figures.  And I think I may go learn FORTRAN now. ~_^

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Star Trek Beyond and Ghostbusters: Entertaining, Forward-looking Sci-Fi Movies

Continuing our summer tradition, B and I saw a double feature at our local drive-in this weekend: Star Trek Beyond followed by Ghostbusters.  I am not a hardcore fan of either of these franchises; I’ve never seen the original Star Trek series (and I actually enjoyed Into Darkness!), and though I’ve seen the original Ghostbusters, it was a long time ago and I couldn’t tell you much about it.

So that’s to say I didn’t have high expectations for either of these two reboot movies, but they both turned out to be entertaining in a good summer movie kind of way.

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Star Trek Beyond had nothing that was super original in terms of plot; there was a little bit of suspense, but the villain was not particularly compelling.  But the characters were good, and by breaking them into pairs and small groups for most of the movie they were able to play them off each other well.  In particular, I appreciated that Uhura and Spock’s relationship was present but understated, with no unnecessary drama.

The music and visuals were also nice, though the attack on the Yorktown outpost reminded me strongly of Xandar from Guardians of the Galaxy.

ghostbustersThe Ghostbusters movie was even more predictable in terms of plot, but the pacing was lively and the effects sharp.  The vast majority of humor in the movie derives from the characters being awkward, and lot of it I didn’t find particularly funny, but I appreciated that it didn’t take itself too seriously.  Many reviews have praised McKinnon’s all-in craziness, but I preferred Jones’s everyman routine as Patty and Chris Hemsworth’s dumber-than-a-box-of-rocks Kevin.

The cameos from the original cast were nice and definitely got a laugh, but they also pulled you out of the movie.  The Fallout Boy/Missy Elliot cover of the theme song, which inspired much derision on the Internet, was actually well-used in the film.  The end credits are also really great!

But what I was really struck by at the end of the night was that I had seen two tech-positive, entertaining movies with coherent plots that featured a variety of competent female characters with no gratuitous sexuality.  Chew on that for a minute.  The movies were not perfect, but they continued the trend for female leads in sci-fi movies that was so well exemplified last year by Furiosa and Rey.  And that’s something I (and my money) can get behind.

Taking Flight with Captain Marvel

cptmarvel1Captain Marvel doesn’t really seem like the hand-holding type.  She’s sassy, not too patient, and when she gets upset, she just wants to hit something.

Yet somehow she was the one beside me, coaxing me as I took my first step into a larger world.  Because I finally read my first real superhero comic, and it was Kelly Sue Deconnick’s 2012 Captain Marvel series.

I know plenty about superheroes, because I’ve watched a lot of DC and Marvel animated series.  That’s actually how I first heard of Carol Danvers, the current Captain Marvel: I knew that somehow she was responsible for Rogue’s powers of flight and super-strength in the 90s X-men cartoon.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the rise of comic-book movies to the mainstream in recent years, but now I’m thinking that if I enjoy them so much, maybe I should actually, you know, read comic books?

I do read plenty of manga and “graphic novels,” so it’s not such a stretch for me to read comics.  I wanted to start with something current and modern that would help me dig deeper into the superhero world.  I also wanted to not have to shell out tons of money to read a bunch of issues.

Captain Marvel was a perfect intro; I’d heard lots of good stuff about it, and my library has the first 2 compilation volumes (up to issue #12).  In the first story arc, Danvers is shedding her Ms. Marvel mantle and re-inventing herself as Captain Marvel with a kick-ass new costume.  The story line is pretty crazy, but I really liked that it touches on the character’s “original” origin story with Mar-Vell and the explosion of the Kree weapon that gave Carol her powers.  It was a great way to clue new readers like me into the history of the character while still moving her story forward.

Carol is a really great character, and fun to read.  She reminds me so much of Starbuck from the new BSG; this cover is my favorite because she even looks a little like Starbuck:

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The only real issue I had with this series was the jarring artist switch in issue #9.  I really, really like Filipe Daniel Moreno De Andrade’s style, but I did not think it fit as well with the writing, and it was such a change that it was distracting.  It probably wouldn’t have bothered me as much if I were just reading separate issues and not the compilation volume with no real breaks between the different story arcs.

I also enjoyed seeing appearances by other current Avengers–maybe I will branch off into reading some of those comics as well.  I’m also looking forward to trying the new Ms. Marvel, Kamala Kahn, about whom so much has been made.

Any other reading suggestions for a comic n00b?

 

 

Diversity in the Nerd Mythos

Everyone and their mother has an opinion on the recently-announced casting of Star Wars Episode VII.  We nerds are masters of over-analysis, aren’t we!

Naturally I have an opinion, as well…many opinions, many hopes and fears for the next step in my favorite fandom.  I couldn’t help but comment yesterday…only one new female main role has been cast (with another supporting role potentially on the way).  Annalee Newitz of io9 has offered her opinion on this here.

We all know that scifi and fantasy tend to over-represent white men as characters.  The Hobbit had to *make up a new character* to get some estrogen on-screen, for heaven’s sake.  So as I pondered this issue today, I asked myself: What am I doing to address this problem?

I thought about my own writing and the statements I make with my own (unpublished) words.  After all, I am a woman and I typically write female main characters.  I have 4 fantasy novels floating around in my head at the moment:

    1. Male and female duo of main characters, with another female narrator; Native American influences–not bad so far
    2. Male and female duo of main characters, but set in an alternate Roman Empire, so pretty Caucasian
    3. Female main character, race unspecified, but the setting is medieval Europe-style war, so not much room for other female characters–definitely needs some work in the diversity area
    4. And here’s the kicker: X-men-style cast of young magic-users, consisting of 3 males, 1 female, plus the main character (also male) and their teacher (also male).  And while I hadn’t thought about race, they must all be the same, and one has red hair and another has white hair.  Sooooo they probably are not black, Asian etc.

Oh my.  In my own stories, from my own feminist brain, I have a cast a group of white superhumans with a 5:1 m:f ratio.  And to think, just last night I was laughing at how the new Justice League has added Cyborg just to get some real-world diversity.

This is a problem.  We writers of the next generation of nerds need to lead by example, and I am not pulling my weight.

I ran through my cast to see which characters had potential for some changes.  I had made 3 purposefully male to begin with.  The other two?  But but but…that would change the group dynamic!  Teenage hormones are so messy and complicated to write.

I can’t believe I’m still fighting myself on this.  I’m proving myself a hypocrite and a lazy writer to boot.

In the end, I’ve at least decided to genderswap the white-haired character, Starbuck-style.  So this character is now a girl…she can keep the short, white hairstyle.  She can keep the rough-and-tumble with her brothers.  Maybe she’ll have a romantic interest, and maybe she won’t.  This character had literally no reason to be male, except as a default.

And I refuse to let my default be exclusionary.  The more people that can also find themselves in the things I love, the better.

This is clearly going to be an on-going process in my writing.  But I know that in the end, my stories will be the better for it.

 

I’m a chick that can drive stick

That was actually the name of a Facebook group I used to be in.  Way back in 2005.  When Facebook was only for college students.  Geez, pretty soon I’ll be like “Get off my lawn, you punks!!”

A quick hello to all those who found my blog from the link on Susan Cain’s.  Welcome!

Anyway…the A/C in my car has decided that it has better things to do, and now only works when it feels like it.  Sooo I think it’s finally time for that new car I’ve been contemplating for about a year.

Making big decisions is not my strong suit.  I am not am impulse buyer; I do research and make spreadsheets of features and prices for comparison.  It can take me quite a while to make a big purchase.

This is compounded by the fact that car buying is stressful for everyone (except maybe the dealers).  I am the stereotypical non-assertive, polite, people-pleasing woman and I dread having to haggle with car salesmen (let’s face it, they’re mostly male).

I went to test drive some Hondas last weekend and immediately threw the salesguy for a loop when I said I wanted to test 2 models with manual transmission.

Ah, the stick shift. Bane of driver’s ed students for generations.

I don’t know if he was skeptical, confused, or impressed, because he said something like, “Oh, really?  Most girls I know don’t like driving stick.”

It’s funny; I think this is a common conception, yet I wonder why.  Hardly anyone at all anymore drives a manual (they’re only 6.5% of cars sold), so it seems strange to single out women.  Only a handful of people I know can drive stick, yet, at least half of those are women!

I did not learn to drive stick for the fun of it; my parents had manual transmission cars, and I learned to drive in them.  True, it did not make me very excited about driving.  At all.  It was incredibly frustrating at first; I thought I was incompetent at driving.  I remember the first time I drove alone out of the neighborhood and did not kill the engine once.

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When it came time to buy my own car, I got a used manual Corolla for a good deal.  (One nice thing about manuals, they are sometimes cheaper.)  At this point, it is really just habit that has me wanting to buy another.  They don’t get better gas mileage.  They are harder to find in fun colors.  Am I just being stubborn in refusing to join the legions of happy automatic drivers?

Probably.  But when someone asks to borrow my car, I can still smile sweetly and say, “Sure! Do you drive stick?”

My theft deterrent system
My theft deterrent system