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Marginalization is defined as the act of segregating a person or intellect into an inferior position of importance, influence, or power. It can be recognized in society through the exclusion of a minority when a disparity in race, gender, age, or religion is present. Literature has a very significant role in educating young adult audiences about marginalization and its representation in society. These themes are present in Nam Le’s collection of short stories, The Boat (2008), and Theodore Melfi’s film, Hidden Figures (2016). Both text’s predominant themes, gender discrimination, and racism, revolve around the development of progression and the process by which groups can integrate into society. Different forms of discrimination are found within the text, towards individuals to effectively demonstrate the relationship between marginalization and progression.

Hidden Figures, directed by Theodore Melfi, represents the prevalent themes of sexism and racism in American societies during the 1960s. The film portrays the challenges for women’s liberation and gives character to the protagonists who defend their positions to achieve higher ideals of freedom and recognition. Using creative devices to reveal the distress encountered by three African American women, Melfi displays the struggle that women, specifically colored women experience. The Boat, written by Vietnamese-born writer Nam Le, is a collection of short stories that transports the audience from the slums of Colombia to a tiny fishing village in Australia, and from New York City to the streets of Tehran.

Hidden Figures conveys that women never have it easy; under male dominance, women use their determination and voice to inspire and achieve their goals and be recognized. The protagonists of the film are submerged in a societal system that revolves around white privilege and masculinity. Due to the protagonist’s gender and race, they could not sign documents, or attend meetings, nor could they work or be recognized as engineers. This is the case of Mary Jackson, a black woman who wishes to be an engineer at NASA. However, after the realization that her position in society makes her unlikely to be an engineer, Mary asserts, ‘I’m a Negro woman. I’m not going to entertain the impossible. The only way that she can attend night classes in a segregated school is to petition for permission from the court. Mary connects the court judge’s history with her own experience by appealing to the judge’s ego to achieve her goal. She does this by persuading the judge that ‘[he] of all people should understand the importance of being first’. Mary’s calmness in the courtroom is captured through a medium close-up shot, with Mary’s direct eye contact and confident stance also adding to her sense of certainty. Mary eventually won the case and became the first African American female engineer at NASA. This is not only a great achievement for Mary, but it is also a huge improvement for the African American community in the 1960s. Through this scene, the audience can understand how speaking up to authority and fighting for what you want can, you not only achieve your own goals, but you can also help and benefit others to reach their goals.

The same case applies to Nam Le’s short story ‘Cartagena,’ which explores themes such as loyalty, sacrifice, and revenge. However, the sexist side of this story is never discussed which is in contrast to Melfi’s Hidden Figures. In Cartagena, the main representation is the experience of the main character, Juan Pablo’s childhood friend, Claudia. Pablo states on the first page of the story, ‘He is the oldest of us'(the boat, pg.31), but in reality, Claudia is the oldest of the whole group, yet Pablo does not acknowledge her as

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she is a female. Even though Claudia is a part of the Gallada and has dated Juan Pablo previously, he still does not see Claudia as a person who matters. Another significant quote from Pablo is that after Claudia had asked him how he was feeling, he asserted, ‘It is a question only a girl would ask’. The specific diction used in the writing is that he purposely uses the word ‘only’ to differentiate between the expected divide between masculinity and femininity. Another example of this is that boys in this short story often reject expressing their feelings and associate this with a trait that only girls possess. Through the two quotes from Cartagena, Nam Le positioned the audience to empathize with Claudia and influenced the audience to develop a desire to make a change against gender discrimination. Although Nam Le mentioned the marginalization of females, Le does not show how progression is being made, solely leaving it to the audience to compose.

Similarly, in Hidden Figures, Katherine, a mathematician at NASA, is constantly being controlled by men and is expected to follow every single demand they make. When Al Harrison, a NASA director, questions Katherine about taking long breaks, she explains that she is required to walk half a mile to use the bathroom since ‘there are no colored bathrooms in [the] building.’. Katherine’s pain and furious expression while explaining to Harrison is shown through a close-up shot, presenting the hopelessness of Katherine at that moment. Her dripping wet shirt and hair, caused by walking to the detached bathroom in the rain, additionally serve a further enragement to the double standard set by men. After Katherine storms out of the office, Harrison slowly walks towards the kettle and rips the coloured label off. Later, Harrison begins to understand Katherine’s plight, and bashes the colored bathroom sign down, shouting, ‘Here at NASA, we all pee the same color”, initiating a new change for racism in NASA. The audience is positioned to feel proud of Katherine for speaking up for herself and challenging the social constraints.

Racial discrimination is also explored in Nam Le’s short story ‘Love and Honour and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice’. This book explores Nam Le’s experience in Iowa while pursuing a writing career. Since his father’s arrival in the USA, he was constantly reminded of his background as an immigrant. In addition, due to a lack of trust in his father, Le sees his father as someone who is trying to dominate him. Therefore, Le didn’t want his father’s arrival to affect his writings. When Le was struggling with an idea for a story, Le’s friend suggested, ‘You could exploit the Vietnamese thing.’ This line includes racial discrimination as Le is expected by his friends to write a Vietnamese story simply because he is from Vietnam. Although Le lives in Iowa, it is expected of him to be well-informed about Vietnam due to his race. This limits the progression of the writer as it does not allow him freedom in his writing due to his race. Le wanted to be respected for being the writer he was and to be held to the same standard as American writers. Le wanted to be seen as more than one thing – he was a writer, not just Vietnamese. Although Le’s freedom in writing was restricted by his race, Le still decided to write a story based on his father’s experience in a massacre in Vietnam. However, Le’s script was then burnt by his father, this action by Le’s father displays that Le no longer needs to “exploit the Vietnamese thing”, Nam can write his own story without mentioning his father’s past or other Vietnamese things. This shows the progression of Le’s writing career, from writing about “lesbian vampire and Colombian assassins, and Hiroshima orphans” (Love and Honour, p.g. 19) and being told to write about Vietnam, to being able to write freely without being restricted by his father’s past.

Marginalization can be recognized in society through the exclusion of a minority when a disparity in race, gender, age, or religion is present. While Racism and gender discrimination have significantly reduced since the release of Hidden Figures and The Boat, our society displays that although marginalization has been reduced, the same problem still exists. What we can learn from Hidden Figures and The Boat is that there is always a way that our society can fight against any type of marginalization. Although we often use literature or cinema to remind and educate us to fight against marginalization, this won’t be a big enough step towards equality. So, we should all continue to support and promote people’s rights and equality. There is one thing we have learned from Katherine, Mary, and Le’s father: that speaking up is a great way to fight for their rights and to achieve their goals.

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