Deadline reports that some clips of the upcoming film “Hidden Figures” were screened at the Toronto International Film Festival, unusual because the movie is not yet finished. The film, described as “The Help” meets “The Right Stuff” tells the story of three African American women math geniuses who played a crucial role in the early Space program. Their accomplishments took place in an era when the contributions of both women and ethnic minorities were not appreciated as often as they should have been.

“Hidden Figures,” perhaps despite itself, will redeem the Apollo race to the moon from a libel that it has had to endure for decades.

It was perhaps an accident of history that the Apollo program to land a man on the moon coincided with the civil rights movement. The two had a contentious relationship with many in the campaign to liberate African Americans from discrimination viewed the race to the moon as a diversion of resources that would better serve to address social needs. The meme was taken up by a number of white liberal politicians, such as Senator Walter Mondale, the future vice president, and presidential candidate.

The Reverend Ralph Abernathy, at one time the heir to the slain Dr. Martin Luther King, led a protest against the launch of Apollo 11. Then-NASA Administrator Thomas Paine famously told him that if he could end all social problems by not firing the Saturn V rocket, he would, the message being that it wouldn’t and therefore he would not.

The singer Gil Scott-Heron wrote a protest song called “Whitey on the Moon,” and angry, racist screed that linked the moon walks to poverty, crime, and discrimination in the ghetto.

The song encapsulated the sense of rage that many on the left whipped up against the space program, helping to end Apollo much sooner than it should have been.

Ironically, had it not been for the plane crash that took the life of Major Robert Lawrence, an African American Air Force officer and Defense Department astronaut, a black man might well have walked on the moon. When the DOD astronaut program was terminated, most of its participants transitioned to NASA, and some eventually flew into space.

It conceivable that Major Lawrence might have been included in an Apollo mission had he lived. So far, though, no minority and no woman have walked on the moon. That possibility (irony again) was foreclosed when President Barack Obama canceled the Constellation return to the moon program.

For the protagonists of “Hidden Figures,” the space program, far from being a distraction, proved to be empowering. Not many African American women went into STEM fields in that era and those who did tended to become teachers. But for these women, who calculated the trajectories that took John Glenn into orbit and then brought him home, NASA provided an opportunity that had hitherto been unimaginable, an opportunity that would have been impossible had America not reached for the moon and therefore would need the talents of everyone to achieve it, even people who had hitherto been marginalized.

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