If Hollywood Showed More Movies with Women in STEM Fields, Would Pop Culture Follow?
The movie Hidden Figures (2016) starred Taraji P. Henson and Octavia Spencer and focused on mathematicians who worked at NASA and calculated the trajectories for Project Mercury and other missions. This movie was based on mathematician Katherine Johnson whose calculations where critical to many of NASA’s missions. Johnson is a role model for all young women both in and out of STEM, but we must credit the resurgence of her popularity to this box-office hit. Many people had no idea of Johnson’s impact on NASA and science in general. Her history is not a staple of children’s classrooms, and pop culture has seemed to forgotten her role in US history. When Hidden Figures was released, many people were ecstatic to know that this woman played such a role in science history. The movie brought her back into the spotlight and made math and science cool.
It’s a fact that many movies in Hollywood that focus on science, technology, engineering, and math often feature males at the lead. These males are the top of their game, whereas in the background their smart—but not as smart as the lead male character—female assistant support their endeavors. Because Hollywood is so influential in the lives of, well almost everyone, what if Hollywood produced more movies that had more of a STEM focus but based the lead role on a woman? The more of these images are shown on television and on the big screen, the more young women’s interests in STEM fields will grow.
Imagery is an important vehicle in molding a young woman’s mind. The more images she sees, the more her mind expands. When she sees images of someone like her doing something that she didn’t think or know she could do, her ideas of what she can and cannot do become limitless.
Take, for instance, Wonder Woman. For years, men have served as the lead for superhero movies. Young boys dressed up as Batman, Superman, or other heroes and felt empowered to fight crime and do the right thing. These movies made a huge impact and created a new generation of fans. When Wonder Woman was finally released in 2017, young girls jumped at the chance to emulate this character, taking pride that she was incredibly strong and fearless. Young girls were purchasing memorabilia and doing exactly what young men had done when they viewed their heroes on the big screen.
With the great need for STEM roles to be filled, reaching out to viable candidates through conventional methods are no longer working. We must step back and become creative in how we recruit new talent, and Hollywood may be the way to go. Hollywood has the ability to create amazing storylines that will have the viewer invested for hours and the technology to hold their attention. When Hidden Figures was released, all media outlets created an unintentional awareness of the lack of females within the science and mathematics field. Those several weeks of discussing the plot of the movie and the individuals that helped mold history held everyone’s interest in science and math. The film inspired the US State Department to create an educational program to promote women in STEM called #Hidden No More. #Hidden No More, brought together US leaders in science and engineering, as well as women scientists from fifty countries to discuss how to further develop women in STEM.
That was just the tip of the iceberg. The movie opened up a dialogue between men and women of all cultures and races to figure out how to improve female representation and diversity within STEM. Perhaps, more people will take note of the power of Hollywood and create movies in which women hold the lead in STEM roles. If nothing else, Hidden Figures showed them it was possible and lucrative.