Director Theodore Melfi admitted to adding several fictitious storylines to Hidden Figures. His reasoning:
“There needs to be white people who do the right thing,” he said. There needs to be Black people who do the right thing and someone does the right thing. And so who cares who does the right thing, as long as the right thing is achieved?”
Uh. huh. The problem is these fictional white knight moments come at two major points in the movie:
Katherine Johnson and the 'colored' restroom discrimination
A large part of the movie involves watching Johnson need to run across campus to the 'colored' restroom because her new workspace accommodated whites only. After an impassioned speech by Johnson, her boss (played by Kevin Coster) takes a hammer to the 'colored' restroom sign and states that all staff may use any bathroom because, 'Here at NASA, we all pee the same blood'.
Margot Lee Shetterly, Hidden Figures' original author, stated that Johnson refused to use the 'colored' restrooms and used any toilet she damn pleased. Why not give us a montage of Johnson leaving racist white women shook as she leaves a 'whites only' stall instead of acting like she waited for permission?
Watching John Glenn's success from Mission Control
As Johnson delivers the calculations needed for John Glenn's re-entry from space, the movie protrays her being initially shut out from the Mission Control room, only for a white dude to beckon her in as she starts to walk away. Instead Johnson was denied access and forced to watch the transmission from her desk.
This is not to say there weren't moments of respect towards black persons in the film or the real life story. John Glenn truely trusted Katherine Johnson's work and NASA permitted Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson to forward the space program by giving them more control in the workplace. But these women had to fight for every inch of control that was already well deserved, and giving part of that fight away to white characters for fictiously doing the right thing on screen decades later (but not in real life) has no place in historical films.
Overall I still adore this movie and its message, but I hope being called out on this will deter future films from unecessary white savior storylines in majority POC films.