Maya Angelou and Theodore Melfi explore oppression as a challenge to the value of freedom and the inequality of coloured women through the film and poetry. Through the use of camera angles, dialogue and poetic devices both texts reflect the historical and modern challenges to the values of marginalized peoples. ‘Hidden Figures’ and ‘I know why the caged bird sings’ successfully communicate powerful life experiences that highlight the individual's values of freedom in comparison to oppression and the inequality that coloured women face in society. The individual is used to represent a specific groups response to the barriers they must face and overcome to have their values recognised.
Maya Angelou uses her text to represent oppression among the African-American peoples. For example, Angelou writes “his wings are clipped and feet are tied”. The example uses the technique of symbolism to create a visual representation of the African-Americans oppression. Angelou has effectively shown contention by using “wings are clipped” to allude to the feeling of being trapped and not being able to do anything about their situation. Similarly, in the film ‘Hidden Figures’ the director, Theodore Melfi, has Katharine speak up about how coloured people are separated entirely from the white population. For example, their bathrooms are half a mile away from where all of the coloured peoples building are, on the other side of the campus. The example shows the camera technique of a close up to show Katherines heightened emotions and then when she mentions the raw topic of the coffee pot the camera goes to a high angle shot that shows her co-workers and their astonishment as they realise that it actually affects her. This is a symbol of how the white population are trying to keep them segregated and separate. This links to Angelou’s quote “wings are clipped” meaning that they don’t have the freedom that the white population has. By taking away their ability to reach a higher point in their careers they keep the African-American employees from reaching a place of power. An example of this from the film is the point that Katharine brings up when she is publically voicing her opinions to Mr Harrison, she states “lord knows you don’t pay colours enough to afford pearls”. This alludes to the pay gap that the coloured population have to deal with, just because they were born with a different skin colour. Both of these texts represent how both situations are similar and how they are both being oppressed by the powerful population, the white people.
Angelou uses her text to represent the effect of oppression on individuals in different ways. For example, Angelou writes “the caged bird sings with a fearful trill”. The example uses the poetic techniques of extended metaphors and powerful adjectives to relate directly to the African-Americans trauma. Angelou has effectively captured the effect of oppression by using her quote “the caged bird” as an extended metaphor that symbolises the African-American peoples being caged. “Sings with a fearful trill” relates through the use of powerful adjectives representing the only thing that the black population shares with the white population, the ability to speakout. In comparison, the director of the film ‘Hidden Figures’ has Mary speak up for her rights and try to break through the physical and social barriers she is oppressed by in the courtroom. For example, in the courtroom the judge asks Mary “what would warrant a coloured women wanting to attend a white school?”. The example shows the technique of an eye level shot to show that Mary and the judge are at equal heights and have equal power during that point in the scene. Mary continues with a steady attitude in response to the judges comment to argue her point for the African-American peoples and in doing so she “sings with a fearful trill”. She dares to dream of the impossible knowing that she can’t do anything but voice her opinion and persuade the white judge to break the social barriers and stigmas that the coloured people face everyday. In her attempts of persuasion she states “which one is going to make you the first?”, even though the odds are stacked against her, she is strong with her argument. She says this to lure the judge into agreeing by making sure he benefits from the deal to make him more susceptible to saying yes to her proposal. Both texts sufficiently represent the social struggle and how important a person’s voice is the fight for freedom and their dreams no matter what ethnic group you originate from.
Melfi uses the power and potential that Mary has hidden to create a respectable character that is socially undermined and not accepted because of her gender and skin colour. Mary is told that she should apply for an engineering position at NASA, but she politely declines because even though she is determined enough she needs a degree and socially she would not be accepted without a fight into the position. Mr Karl Zielinski shares his beliefs and proposes that if she were a white male would she apply for the job, she replies in complete confidence in saying “I wouldn’t have to, I’d already be one”. This dialogues shows that she knows she could succeed but is held down by the social barriers that prevent her from trying to accomplish her dreams. In this scene one of the main shots that is used is a mid shot, the mid shot is used to compare Mary’s and Mr Zielinski's equal power and is also used to show the vast spacecraft she is examining carefully. Similarly, Mary’s social struggles are shared by the ‘caged bird’ in Angelou’s poem. For example, her situation relates to Angelou’s quote “stands on the graves of dreams”. Mary knows that she can and should be allowed to be an engineer but she explains that she will “not entertain the impossible”, therefore she is forced to suppress her emotions and metaphorically stands on the grave of her dreams. The example uses the technique of metaphors which links a direct comparison between two seperate things or concepts. By stating that she is standing on the grave of her dreams, because Mary knows that she is considered lower class than the white male population and coloured women are considered incapable of being a computer. Both these texts effectively represent how the ‘free bird’ or the white male population have the power and the ‘caged bird’ or the coloured female population are considered to be below human standards. Both texts show that if you were born female or with coloured skin, you really do not have an opinion in order to become successful and respected.
The film ‘Hidden Figures’ represents strong marginalized voices such as the separation of men and women that socially and culturally stand up for their rights. For example, when Jim Johnson approaches Katharine and states that she works at NASA as a human computer, he then follows by subconsciously offending her by starting to say “they let women handle that sort of thing?”. Katharine shows him up by holding her powerful tone in that moment as she lists all the things she successfully accomplishes each day and all the achievements she has made, even if these achievements seem unrealistic to the male society. She finalizes her point by stating “It’s not because we wear skirts, it's because we wear glasses". Indicating that they are not there for being secretarial or cleaning staff, they are there because they are smart and are making a difference in contradiction to what people generally assume and associate them with. This leaves Mr Johnson shocked, by asserting her power as an independent woman she unfolds Mr Johnson's point, that women simply wouldn't be thought to partake in these taxing and heavy roles, this diminishes their ability to achieve a place of power. This scene uses the technique of dialogue to assign levels of power due to the tone or volume of the voice as well as the actual words being verbalized. When Katharine speaks, she speaks with an assertive and slightly defensive tone to show her emotions being projected towards Mr Johnson. This scene effectively shows that women are constantly being undermined by the male population because they simply don't understand that what they say and do towards women is considered wrong or incorrect. Women are constantly being diminished into the stereotypical position of a housemaid that does everything that they are told. In this scene Katharine challenges that stereotype, she asserts her independent power to represent that she will not succumb to the social stigmas of women, with strength and determination to make a significant change in society's perceptions of women in that time. Similarly, Angelou's poem addresses the issues of the social inequality of women in society. For example, she uses “and his tune is heard on the distant hill". This example a metaphor to allude to the fact that Katherine's voice is heard with deaf ears, meaning that even if she addresses her issues no one will listen to her opinions because she’s a women. The quote to the fact of Katharine when she voices her opinions is basically like is talking to a brick wall, the brick wall being the barriers that she is trying to overcome. The barrier being that she is a women and women's opinion don't get taken seriously. Katharine however breaks free of the stereotype of being silent and in turn makes a difference in society. Mr Jim Johnson is not aware of Katherines experiences and judges accordingly on his own opinions and unbrinings of what men and women should be able to do. This means he doesn't see how his comments are highly offensive to someone who is trying to break through the stigmas and make an important difference. Whereas the caged bird in Angelou’s poem doesn't know any different it’s so used to not being heard and being ignored that it genuinely believes that they deserve what they get. Both text effectively represent the struggles of women in society and how they are different. In hidden figures Katherine stands up for herself but in the caged bird the bird does not know any different so it keeps quiet. This is an example of how the two populations or birds are the same but get treated differently due to their gender.
Considering the social, physical and emotional barriers that the individuals have had to face on a daily basis, the white population remain ignorant towards their conditions. Yet these three African-American women took the world by storm and helped change the history of the world forever. It shows that even though you get beaten down or tossed aside you don't have to give up, you can keep fighting to pursue your dreams no matter what your skin colour or gender. Everybody is entitled to an opinion no matter how worthless or meaningless you think you voice will be, you will be heard.Angelou understand the power of voice and uses her poem to reinforce its importance to an audience that may not understand the effect of oppression on marginalized peoples.