Every other month, The Grand Cinema hosts a special Science on Screen event, pairing a film with a presentation by a notable figure from the world of science, technology, or medicine.
For our June 12 Science on Screen, we connected with Korean astronaut Soyeon Yi to present before the film Hidden Figures. Once we started promoting the program, the Tacoma Action Collective reached out to us. Below is an excerpt from their initial email:
It has come to our attention that the Grand will be showing Hidden Figures as a part of the Science on Screen initiative. While this is great, we're disheartened by the decision to feature Soyeon Yi as the guest speaker. It's definitely an accomplishment to be the first astronaut from South Korea, but the movie was created to bring to light the Black women who were mathematicians and computer scientists who played an important role in the history of aeronautics. Although Soyeon is a woman of color, and without a doubt, faced many hardships to achieve all of her accomplishments, having her speak over a Black woman is problematic - in fact, it is erasure.
We take the Tacoma Action Collective and their work for our community seriously and appreciate their willingness to reach out, so we all agreed to meet.
We met with TAC committed to listening and learning. Our conversation with Tacoma Action Collective was eye-opening and powerful.
We were struck that by not including Black women in our presentation we not only contributed to the systemic harm of institutionalized racism, but we also inflicted personal pain: the members of Tacoma Action Collective shared their own experiences being raised and taught by Black women with expertise in the STEM fields and the importance of celebrating these lifelong impacts. Hidden Figures shares the story of Black women whose stories are rarely told, and especially underrepresented in science and technology.
We realized that we had made a mistake and caused our community pain. Despite our well-meaning intentions, we learned that our programming was problematic, and at its core, erasure of Black women.
We are deeply sorry for the pain we caused and are working to make things right. Hidden Figures and Science on Screen is an opportunity to connect with our community, to move forward with compassion, and to right a wrong.
As we have learned, problematic programming connected to Hidden Figures is an issue throughout the country and here in Tacoma, we have a chance to make a change and work with TAC to celebrate the roles of Black women in science, physics, mathematics, engineering, and aeronautics.
We asked the Tacoma Action Collective to help and they connected us with local Black women leaders and experts who will share their experiences and guide the Science on Screen discussion. Soyeon Yi represents one of the important voices that we will hear from, but it is essential that we also include the voices of African American women. Their work paired with Soyeon Yi’s presentation will celebrate the important achievements of Black women in mathematics and technology as well as the intersections of the African American and South Korean experiences in math and science.
Confirmed speakers for June 12 are (pictured clockwise from the top left) Monique Jordan, local math and science teacher; Asha Isaac, STEM education advocate and recent graduate of the information technology program at the University of Washington Tacoma; Soyeon Yi, biotechnologist and astronaut; and Jaleesa Trapp, computer science teacher.
In presenting the art of independent, foreign, and local film, The Grand Cinema serves to deepen compassion and understanding; honor freedom of expression; challenge and dismantle systemic oppression; create environments enriched with diverse views and people; and help the development of socially responsible leaders and citizens.
This quote, from The Grand Cinema's statement of equity and inclusion helps to guide our next steps; this is a public teachable moment, an opportunity for us to stand by our statement of equity and inclusion, and to truly operate as a community space.
Thank you to the Tacoma Action Collective for helping us see and better understand cultural appropriation and racism, and for helping us to expand the discussion. We will move forward in the active process of inclusion and equity, championing equitable cinema experiences and films that represent diverse communities around the world.
- Philip Cowan, Executive Director; Katy Evans, Assistant Executive Director; Darcy Nelson, Director of Marketing & Communications
June 12, 2017: Science on Screen featuring Hidden Figures and speakers Jaleesa Trapp, Monique Jordan, Asha Isaac, and Soyeon Yi. Get your tickets now!