Inspired by the Oscar-nominated film Hidden Figures, the US Department of State organized an International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) called “Hidden No More.” The exchange program invited 48 women leaders from 48 different countries — all of whom work in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) — to come to the United States to network and explore policies promoting the interests of women in STEM. Unlike other exchange programs, this one is living proof that films can transcend the screen and inspire real progress.
And me? Well, I was the lucky one who had the privilege of filming and documenting this exchange.
Interviewing Hidden No More exchange participants at UCLA
The Inspiration for the Exchange
The idea for the program started after US embassies screened the film to their local communities. The support for the screenings was so positive that 48 countries decided to each nominate one woman in STEM to represent their country on a three-week IVLP exchange in the United States. Not only were the women nominated all extremely talented, but they were also all passionate about creating more opportunities for women in their home countries.
A Meeting of the Minds
I met the group on the tail end of their exchange program in Los Angeles. During my three days with them, I interviewed the participants, as well as their American counterparts at UCLA, the California Science Center, and Fox Studios. Even though they had just met each other two weeks prior, I could tell the women already had strong connections to each other.
Silvia Stegaru, an exchange participant from Romania and co-founder of Codette, said, “We got a chance to meet one another and see what amazing things we all do. And we get to connect, we get to stay in touch. Now I know that I have a friend in Hungary, I have a friend in Guatemala, I have a friend in LA, and it’s amazing.”
Silvia Stegaru, Romanian co-founder of Codette, at the California Science Center
Gretchen Bazela, the Deputy Director of Education at the California Science Center in Los Angeles, gave the Hidden No More group a tour of her facility, and was very impressed by their enthusiasm and passion. “I think probably the coolest part is to see the passion that each one of the women has for science as a whole,” said Bazela. “Not just their own field, but really getting other women into science.”
The Social Impact of Moviemaking
I also interviewed Liba Wenig Rubenstein, the Senior Vice President of Social Impact at 21st Century Fox, who hosted the 48 women at the closing of their three-week program at the Fox Studio Lot. Rubenstein’s job is to ensure that the productions at Fox, like Hidden Figures, can ultimately inspire conversations, action, and progress in society at large. The manifestation of Hollywood in a global yet civic space, such as the Hidden No More exchange program, is exactly the kind of thing she hoped for.
“From my perspective for social impact, this is the epitome of why I do what I do,” Rubenstein said. “It demonstrates the power of storytelling to change people’s lives, and to start conversations that might not otherwise have been had. And it’s just that catalyst for change and for realization that you sometimes need to make progress.”
Even Octavia Spencer, who played Dorothy Vaughan in Hidden Figures, shared her support for the exchange online.
Hidden Figures is a story about female African American mathematicians who played a vital role in NASA’s mission to the moon, but it’s also about much more than that. The film is a jumping-off point for other women in STEM to talk to each other, providing a platform for empowerment. And this is exactly what the Hidden No More exchange program is about: bringing these women together to talk, to network, and to collaborate on improving entry points for women in STEM all around the world.
As a woman in video, it was so wonderful to witness and document this very special exchange between cinema and real life. I left each day feeling inspired and grateful that these types of programs exist. Check out the short documentary I filmed on Hidden No More below, and if you have related stories to tell about your own personal experiences, please share and tag them with #HiddenNoMore.
Also, if you’re interested about what I used to film the Hidden No More short documentary, you can see the full list of my gear at premieregal.com/gear and you can check out my YouTube channel for weekly video production tutorials and reviews.
Top Image: Hidden No More exchange participants at the California Science Center in Los Angeles.