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Literature and films have the power to change the way we perceive others, specifically those who are at the edges of society. The representation of African-American women, in the past, have revealed that they have been exploited in numerous ways. The Black Women Civil Right Movement in the 1950s significantly contributed to the fight for African-American civil rights.

It is solemnly important that all young people are taught to have an open mind towards people of different races, religions and cultures. We need to respect each other as humans, regardless of skin colour, beliefs and backgrounds. It is imperative that this begins in schools to avoid repeating mistakes of the past, where people have been excluded from having the same rights and opportunities. This has particularly been the case with race where African Americans have been marginalised by white society who have traditionally been given the dominant voice in texts. The texts schools choose in their curriculum are crucial, for they will challenge the stereotypes and labels given to minority groups and therefore provide different ways of looking at those who are marginalised. African Americans were persecuted in the past as they were seen to be inferior to white people and therefore were not treated as human beings. The film ‘Hidden Figures’ directed by Theodore Melfi and the Maya Angelou’s poem ‘Still I Rise’ both explore the perspectives of African-American females who, in the past, have generally not been given a voice in texts. These two texts will be important in representing African Americans, especially women of this race, in a positive light.

The film, ‘Hidden Figures’ directed by Theodore Melfi, presents three brilliant female characters, as the leads who refuse to follow society’s expectations of females in the 1960’s. The poem, ‘Still I Rise’ by Maya Angelou, explores the historical treatment of African-American women and how they have suffered from oppression and persecution in the past. Rather than making African-American women the victims, however, Angelou presents them, as confident individuals who, no matter what obstacles may be thrown at them are able to overcome the challenges and rise again. Therefore, I would argue that these very complex and successful characters may have the power to change the way young people can discover the way they perceive others in the society on a positive lens, which is why I will be persuading you that these are ideal texts for the Senior Curriculum in Queensland.

The film, ‘Hidden Figures’ explores the struggles and triumphs of African-American female employees of NASA during the height of the space race. They are marginalised due to their skin colour and their voices are silenced by the white people they work with; in particular the men. The film is based on the true story of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, three black female NASA engineer and mathematicians who helped astronaut John Glenn to orbit the Earth in the early 1960s. Their journey was unsurprisingly fought with sexism and racism, where the ‘white only’ public facilities were segregated and they were never given credit for their work. They were also denied education and promotions and were underestimated by their white employees.

One of the plot lines that centres around the coloured bathroom, which the director positions the audience to feel the sympathy of the unfair treatment that Katherine receives. In a setting that follows, a camera stage set of Katherine running in the rain to relieve herself at a building, which is distant from the workplace that has a coloured bathroom. This scene reveals an emphasis of a huge segregation and the moral discomfort that she feels. It also reveals the helplessness of these African-American females, showing that they were oppressed and prejudiced, as a result of their race and gender. One of the scenes in the film follows a setting of the white men threatened by Katherine solving complex mathematical problems by hand on the chalkboard. The inclusion of this scene represents Katherine as intelligent, yet the white men refuse to accept her, for this reason it breaks away the representation of African-American women as domestic servants in the society. Therefore, this is a positive representation.

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The closing scene in the film, where the African-American females are given the opportunity of education and promotion for the hidden talents they have confidently shown the dominant white society. This highlights a positive representation of the white society acknowledging the African-American females as equal as all humans do. The text is incredibly powerful in highlighting that each human is worthy; regardless of race, religion or ethnicity, all of us deserve a right to life. Young people need to see that when governments or those in power decide that not all life is precious and discriminate. As a result of superficial difference, the result can be catastrophic as it is seen in the historical event, such as the civil rights movement that befell in United States in the 19th century, when the African-Americans were dehumanised, because of their skin colour. For this reason, the film ‘Hidden Figures’ should be an ideal text that should be included in the Senior Queensland Curriculum.

Another text which challenges racial stereotypes that suggest African-American are inferior is the poem, ‘Still I Rise’ by Maya Angelou, which was published in the late 1970s. The poem expresses an empowering and self-assuring subject matter that emphasizes on the marginalised minorities to rise up against injustice and prejudice, despite the challenges they face.

In the first stanza, the speaker expresses her heart and soul, declaring that oppression and injustice of the white society will not succeed, for the history they have written is bitter and twisted in lies and therefore she proclaims she will rise like dust. This reveals a challenging antagonism yet an empowering way out of the oppression of the white oppressors. In the fifth stanza, the speaker questions the white oppressors, who are aggrieved to see the black society succeed with pride; however, she declares that her success is found within her intelligence. The inclusion of the stanza reveals a certainty that all people of different race are blessed with intelligence within their true selves, and therefore if we respect each other as human, unrestrained from inequality, we can live as equals. Furthermore, in the last stanza, she ends the poem with “I am the dream and the hope of the slave, I rise, I rise, I rise” this reveals that African-American females are although no longer slaves, they still continue to encounter oppression and injustice. However, she presents the marginalised minorities to challenge themselves as confident individuals to live life to the fullest and focus on the positive.

The text is powerful, as it highlights an empowering message for all human to be confident individuals; as self-confidence is the first requisite to great undertakings in life. Young people need to see that all human of different race fight battles, to have the same equal rights and privileges in order to strive for a continuous improvement and to live life to its fullness. This can potentially change the way young people perceive others in a positive light, as it can serve as a progress in social and political reality. Therefore, ‘Still I Rise’ is an imperative text that should be included in the Senior Queensland Curriculum.

The representation of the three African-American females in ‘Hidden Figures’ are very effective problem solvers and innovators. As they present a greater knowledge and understanding in solving mathematical and computation problems in the workforce, despite their unfortunate circumstances. This is a positive representation because it reflects the empowerment and resilience that the African-American females significantly contribute to make a difference in the society to live and work in unity. The representation of ‘Still I Rise’, Angelou is a confident and empowering African-American female writer. As she presents a message of confidence, resilience and determination for the marginalised minorities who have not been given a voice in the society. This is therefore, a positive representation, which reflects the status of African-American women in the past and present society. While in 2019 racial segregation may not exist so openly as it did in the United States, however Australia continues to battle issues surrounding the alienation of Aboriginal Australians. Therefore, these texts ‘Hidden Figures’ and ‘Still I Rise’ offer a way of seeing people for their abilities, of seeing them as individuals and as humans. It is imperative that texts like ‘Hidden Figures’ and ‘Still I Rise’ are included in the Senior Queensland Curriculum in order to prevent stereotypes, to encourage open-mindedness and to obtain in equality and unity in society.

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