Arts, Movies, Review

‘Mercury 13’ Uncovers NASA’s Female Astronaut Initiative



The plight of women in America has never been more immediately and personally prevalent than how it was represented in Mercury 13. The common assumptions of many women in the 21st century are that if you can present logical arguments and clear facts to a man, he will not hold on to his bigotry. Mercury 13 shatters those assumptions when they are applied to the 1960s and ’70s. This movie showed and explained that discrimination was deliberate and unfounded. The heroes of that age were either misrepresented or altogether edited out.

Starting Mercury 13, one might expect to come away from the movie with a greater sense of its documentary style and with more questions about the intense focus on these women—especially considering that the program never really took off. Instead, Mercury 13 leaves the viewer feeling as though this story should have been told earlier—that the stories of these women mean something to feminine history. Although shaky in the beginning and imprecise in introduction of topics, the movie has the unique ability to light a fire in your heart. Mercury 13 can, and likely will, leave audiences in anger and sadness.

The movie opens with voice overs from the remaining Mercury women and scenes from famous NASA events. Soon after, the voices get put to faces and the viewer meets the Mercury women. Mercury 13 introduces these people and events with typical documentary cards. The women are pilots, and the first 15 minutes are spent explaining their aviation careers, leaving viewers wondering if they are really watching a movie about NASA. Soon after, though, Mercury 13 delves into the story of each of these women’s invitation to the female astronaut testing program.

At this point, viewers might begin to question this story’s depth and prevalence. Almost no one has learned about women in space in any history books or classes. The movie details the women’s trials—both the physical and emotional ones. Mercury 13 heightens the suspense, showing examples of men intentionally throwing wrenches into the program. Interviews of John Glenn are shown, as he laughs at the idea of a woman who might be qualified to be trained to go into space. Later in the film, another astronaut laughs at the idea of Russia putting women into space, saying, “We could have put a woman up … and used her instead of the chimpanzee.”

At this and other points in the movie, it becomes difficult not to feel emotional: Mercury 13 does what it is designed to do. It is even more deeply affecting to watch someone—far in the past to be sure—speak about women as the equivalent of an animal. Women have been subject to discrimination constantly, and this ranks among the most egregious type. The movie is effective, well done, and evokes the exactly right kinds of emotions. The value in Mercury 13, and in using historical fact and video, is that audiences can see the specific and deliberate actions men performed to keep women from doing something they wanted to do. These figures really existed as pictured and recorded. They knew exactly what they were doing and were presented with evidence that women could do what men could do—women could even do it better.

Although Mercury 13 succeeded in showcasing factual data that many people have never seen or heard of, there are points of critique. First, the movie assumes too much prior knowledge. Sadly, this was not so long ago, but the information was not taught widely to anyone in younger generations. The Mercury 13 are anonymous to most young people and it’s admirable that Netflix has created this movie to keep their story alive. It should have been much clearer as to who and what they are to this country. Second and lastly, the story was bit muddled at times. The entry into the women’s aviation careers was confusing and misleading, even if it only lasted for 15 minutes. Also, the introduction of characters may have been better if all of the Mercury 13’s names were listed at the beginning in some way. These are minor complaints though—the experience of watching Mercury 13 is more than worth it.

Featured Image by Netflix

April 22, 2018

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