Early on in Hidden Figures, when Katherine is about to start working with Harrison's team, Mrs. Mitchell warns her that he's a hard guy to work for, and that she's not likely to last long in the position because he goes through computers [professional mathematicians, in a time when electronic computers were still a brand new thing] very quickly.

Instead, he's shown to be a supremely reasonable guy, the sort of manager we all wish we could work for. He's dedicated to making his team successful, works the long hours of overtime alongside the rest of them when necessary, and goes well out of his way to remove obstacles from Katherine's path. For example, the guy Mitchell described would probably have fired Katherine after her meltdown over bathroom availability; instead, he responds with one of the most awesome scenes in the film, personally fixing the problem in a way that could easily have exposed himself to negative social consequences.

Do we have any explanation of why the Al Harrison that Mrs. Mitchell knows is such a completely different guy than the Al Harrison that Katherine worked for?

  • 4
    My hypothesis is that Harrison is hard on people who don't do the work, or can't do it, and Mrs. Mitchell assumes that Katherine will be one of those people.
    – aryxus
    Feb 10 '17 at 23:59

Mrs Mitchell never describes Harrison as a "rough boss".

She merely indicates that he's just a demanding boss and that the "computers" he's had before have not met those demands.

Your supervisor is Mr. Al Harrison, Director of the Space Task Group. You’ll write research, proof calculations, so forth. Don’t talk to Mr. Harrison lest he talks to you. Not many Computers last more than a few days, he’s been through a dozen in as many months.

Mrs Mitchell is an HR person. She assigns people to roles without knowledge, specifically, of the actual working environment or difficulty of the task.

As you indicate, Harrison is an incredibly reasonable and compassionate man but he does have a hard job and is demanding on his workers.

Clearly he has found that previous "computers" have not been up to the challenge that they all face...but Katherine, in this case ignoring the racial issues of the day (which seem irrelevant to Harrison), is not only capable but exceptional at the tasks at hand.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .