Celebrating Film and Television Depictions of Women in STEM
In honour of Ada Lovelace Day, an international holiday celebrating the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM), we’re highlighting our favourite depictions of women in STEM in film and TV to spur you to develop your digital skills. Read on for our top picks and what courses on our Digital Skills Programme you can take if you’re feeling inspired.
Watch: Hidden Figures (2016)
Based on the book of the same name, Hidden Figures recounts the true story of Black female mathematicians Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe), who worked at NASA during the 1960s Space Race. While all three women prove themselves formidable in a white/male-dominated workplace, an especially inspiring storyline shows Dorothy teaching herself and her co-workers programming after NASA installs an IBM 7090 electronic computer that threatens to replace “human computers,” a move that sees her promoted to supervise the Programming Department.
Take: Introduction to Data Science (5 October, 26 October, 23 November 2022) – If you loved Hidden Figures, you’ll definitely want to check out our Introduction to Data Science webinar, which familiarises beginners with concepts such as big data, statistics and analysis, and coding languages and tools.
Watch: Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist (2020-2021)
Episode 2.06 “Zoey’s Extraordinary Reckoning”
The musical comedy-drama Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist charts the story of Zoey Clarke (Jane Levy), a software developer at the fictional San Francisco-based tech company SPRQ Point. After an earthquake occurs during Zoey’s MRI, she develops the ability to hear people’s inner thoughts in the form of pop songs. Despite being cancelled after two seasons, the show offers excellent insight into systemic bias in the tech world through its musical numbers, especially in season 2, episode 6, which shines a light on the need for companies to address the sector’s historic lack of racial diversity.
Take: Contextualising digital skills: Equality, diversity and inclusion in tech (19 October) – this brand new course introduces learners to some of the many equality, diversity and inclusion-related issues within the tech world and how you can do your part in dismantling systemic bias. We can’t teach you how to sing like they do in Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist, but you’ll at least leave with a deeper understanding of why EDI concerns are so central to the evolving tech landscape.
Watch: The Imitation Game (2014) and Enigma (2001)
Both these films feature British codebreakers working to decrypt German messages at Bletchley Park during World War II. While The Imitation Game primarily focuses on Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch), it also highlights cryptanalyst Joan Clarke’s (Keira Knightley) integral role in the breaking of the Enigma machine. Enigma, on the other hand, shines more of a spotlight on the Wrens (Women’s Royal Naval Service) working at Bletchley Park, albeit through a heavily fictionalised mystery plot with a terrific Kate Winslet at its centre. Both films are, however, well worth a watch, especially if you’re interested in cryptography.
Take: Information Security: Hacking Humans (17 November), Information Security: My neighbour hacked my toothbrush (24 November), or Information Security: How hackers attack (11 November).
If you’re into cryptography, chances are you’ll enjoy these Information Security sessions tracking the ever evolving cyber security landscape. Sadly, we don’t have any codebreaking workshops on offer at the moment, but we can offer some helpful guidance on making sure your data isn’t as decipherable as the Enigma machine.
Watch: Ghostbusters (2016)
Since October celebrates not only Ada Lovelace Day but also Halloween, we’d be remiss to leave out the 2016 gender-swapped remake of Ghostbusters. This updated version of the story centres on female scientists investigating paranormal phenomena in New York City. While the science of building proton packs is unfortunately beyond the scope of our Digital Skills Programme, we do have a couple of courses that would help with the data visualisation aspect of ghost-hunting.
Take: Microsoft Power BI: An Introduction to Power BI and data ethics (20 October) – this new offering introduces users to Power BI, a business intelligence tool that provides an interactive platform for “non-technical” users to understand data. Maybe if the women of Ghostbusters had used Power BI to create eye-catching and interactive dashboards, they wouldn’t have had such a hard time convincing people that ghosts were real.
Watch: The X-Files (1993-2018)
Episode 3.06 “2Shy”
You didn’t think we’d end this list without referencing Gillian Anderson’s iconic Agent Dana Scully, did you? Taking TV by storm in the early 1990s, Agent Scully made her mark on girls and women across the globe over the course of nine original seasons (before returning in 2016 for two more) as people tuned in to watch the medical doctor turned paranormal investigator go head to head with monsters, aliens and cigarette smoking men at a time when it was incredibly rare to see a woman in STEM as a leading role on a network television series.
The “Scully Effect,” wherein girls and women were inspired to pursue STEM subjects after seeing Anderson’s character onscreen, was examined in a study by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, but it’s safe to say she continues to be a role model to countless individuals.
Take: Digital safety: Lessons from Netflix (8 November). You could really watch any episode of The X-Files to see why Scully is awesome but season 3 episode 6 “2Shy” not only shows her as a fighter but also illuminates some dangers of online dating that are still relevant today. As we integrate more digital technologies into our daily lives, just as Scully and Mulder were starting to do in the 90s, it’s more important than ever to take pains to keep ourselves safe, too. Our Digital safety: Lessons from Netflix course uses examples from popular media to illustrate the importance of staying safe while connecting with others in digital spaces.
Blog post by Vicki Madden (Digital Safety Support Officer)
Digital Skills and Training / Learning, Teaching and Web Services / Information Services Group