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One Movie Punch

Apr 26, 2018

Today’s movie is “Mercury 13” (2018), the Netflix documentary directed by David Sington and Heather Walsh. The film documents the thirteen women who were privately screened and tested for fitness as astronauts using the same qualifications as male candidates. The film features interviews with those involved in the process, the consequences on their lives and their dreams, and their lasting impact on society.

From now on, whenever someone says they wish we could go back to the good ol’ days in the United States, I want to show them this documentary to remind them of the rampant individual and structural sexism of the 1950s and 1960s. It was so evident in the footage and audio included in the film, and it is the only reason that it took us twenty years longer to get a woman in space. It amazed me just how small-minded our space program and society as a whole were, thinking the vast and immense cosmos was “off limits” because of a second X chromosome.

In fact, the sexism on display sometimes takes away from the stories of these amazing women. The documentary as a whole charts their stories, from their individual interests in flying, their Phase I training, a little about additional testing for selected candidates, and their summary dismissal by NASA, sections of the media, and sometimes even their fellow women. But it doesn’t end there, fast-forwarding to when NASA and society got their heads on straight about women in space, culminating in Eileen Collins’ historic space shuttle flight, and the speech she gave thanking these women.

Heather Walsh & David Sington compose a wonderful documentary that effectively tells their story, with great footage and audio, and a neat “what if” edit of some footage if a woman had been the first to walk on the moon. The only complaint I have about the film is that the music could be a little intrusive, or have a melody or tone that didn’t seem to match the tone of the interviews, and sometimes the overall narrative. A small complaint, but a noticeable one.

“Mercury 13” (2018) is a solid documentary with a quality message about amazing pioneering women denied their place in our sexist space program. I only wish this documentary had been made sooner, to capture more of the voices of the participants, perhaps even a whole docuseries about their individual lives. Viewers who want an unvarnished look at the sexism present in the space program and documentary fans in general should definitely watch this film.

Rotten Tomatoes: 100%

Metacritic: 81

One Movie Punch: 7.8/10

“Mercury 13” (2018) is rated TV-PG and is currently streaming on Netflix.