ShareThis Page

Through 'Hidden Figures,' Pittsburgh students get glance at what could be

| Friday, Feb. 10, 2017, 1:06 p.m.
Octavia Spencer (L), Janelle Monae (2nd L) and Taraji P. Henson accept their award for Cast in a Motion Picture for 'Hidden Figures' during the 23rd Screen Actors Guild Awards on Sunday, Jan. 29, 2017, in Los Angeles.
REUTERS
Octavia Spencer (L), Janelle Monae (2nd L) and Taraji P. Henson accept their award for Cast in a Motion Picture for 'Hidden Figures' during the 23rd Screen Actors Guild Awards on Sunday, Jan. 29, 2017, in Los Angeles.

Some 200 Pittsburgh Public Schools students will mark Presidents' Day by seeing a movie about three African-American women who helped send NASA astronauts into space.

Melinda Angeles started a GoFundMe page with the goal of raising enough money to send low-income kids to see “Hidden Figures.” She said she got the idea from Washington-based Women Who Code, a nonprofit dedicated to inspiring women to excel in technology careers that was sponsoring a similar screening.

“I used to live in Maryland and was involved in a lot of different tech groups there,” said Angeles, a Shaler native. “I thought this was such a great idea and wanted to bring it to Pittsburgh.”

She contacted the Pittsburgh chapter of Girl Develop It, a nonprofit whose mission is to provide opportunities for women to learn web and software development. They were happy to help, she said.

“When Melinda approached me, I thought was a great idea. I wished I had come up with it myself,” said Marylou Lenhart, co-chapter leader of Girl Develop It Pittsburgh.

The film tells the story of Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson and Katherine Johnson, three African-American mathematicians who worked for NASA and helped John Glenn's space launch. “Hidden Figures” is nominated for three Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and was the top-grossing Best Picture nominee of 2016.

The movie highlights the underappreciated contributions of female scientists and has inspired conversations about race and gender roles in science fields. Former First Lady Michelle Obama held a screening at the White House with cast members for middle- and high-school kids in December.

The GoFundMe had a goal of $2,070, which it surpassed in the first day. As of Wednesday, the total was approaching $3,400, and Angeles said she was discussing possibly adding a second screening at SouthSide Works Cinema, which agreed to host the students.

The money will pay for the cost of tickets for kids and chaperones, popcorn, a drink and candy for each child, and additional funds will be used to cover the cost of transportation.

The stated goal of the GoFundMe was that all in attendance “leave with inspiration from the movie and resources to pursue Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields.” A panel discussion of tech groups in Pittsburgh will follow the movie, with final details still being sketched out.

Angeles works for Allegheny County, so she contacted the Department of Human Services, which helped her connect with Pittsburgh Public Schools, to identify eligible students.

“I thought it was going to be hard identifying people who would attend, but I didn't have to do it by myself,” she said.

She had scheduled the movie screening for Feb. 20, thinking the students would have the day off from school for Presidents' Day — but they don't. However, the district told her that it could authorize a sponsored field trip for the kids to attend.

Lenhart said it's key for kids, especially those from underprivileged environments, to see what's available when they consider their future.

“If a kid enjoys math, it's OK to enjoy math because it leads to something; it's not just hard work for nothing,” she said. “It's so easy for kids to get discouraged if they don't have someone to look up to.”

Angeles said SouthSide Works Cinema was enthusiastic to help. Marketing director Dave Huffman said the theater was “thrilled” about being involved with the project.

“While this true story about finding success even in the most challenging environments is inspiring to all viewers, it is especially empowering to young women,” he said in an email.

Angeles said she's been heartened at the positive response and hopes the kids — boys and girls — who see it will feel motivated.

“This isn't just any movie. This movie could inspire them to know that they can work through societal challenges,” Angeles said, adding it's not just about the learning experience. “Kids deserve to have fun and go see a movie.”

Kim Lyons is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.