It’s easy to break Mercury 13 down to a story about sexism. After all, the root of its conflict is a misogynist mentality. But going hand-in-hand with the strife that the women faced in Netflix’s new documentary is a refusal to be part of the solution. At every “women simply can’t do this” remark comes an equally terrifying concept – that society has constructed a fear of limitless possibilities.
As NASA races against Russia in almost every regard of the space race, a group of female pilots are put through the ringer as they partake in training that is parallel to what male astronaut pilots complete, more than proving that they are capable of the same rigorous training that the men are. While the documentary follows a fairly straightforward trajectory, its twists still land as shocking. That’s mainly because despite how obviously sexist things get for the aspiring NASA pilots, it all comes down to a systemic misogyny that the movie shows aren’t an ideology exclusive to men. The twists hit hard because they’re the opposite of what you’d expect, and yet, you can see the motives behind them.
What becomes clear by the end of Mercury 13 is that change will come regardless of roadblocks put in the way. Thirteen women were able to undergo the same tests as men and had they been able to finish them, likely would have qualified as astronauts. Regardless, women eventually made it into space. The documentary doesn’t really delve much into what changed to make this happen, but it still highlights the irrefutable fact that women can do what men can do. Whatever barriers are put in place to prevent equality can be torn down eventually, but it unfortunately will take work, which is why it’s so endearing to see these women not give up on championing women’s rights throughout the film. Mercury 13 is strongest when its subjects are fighting against any systemic sexism.
The Hot Docs Film Festival takes place from Thursday, April 26 to May 6. Visit the official website for more info.