Leland Melvin, Ed Dwight Jr., Charles Bolden, Guion Bluford
Lisa Cortes, Diego Hurtado de Mendoza
National Geographic Documentary Films
Movie Review: The Space Race
There is a moment that arrives toward the end of National Geographic's immensely satisfying documentary The Space Race, a special presentation during the 2023 Heartland International Film Festival, during which I became completely aware of just how moving I found the film to be. Co-directed by Lisa Cortes and Diego Hurtado de Mendoza, The Space Race uncovers the little known stories of the first Black pilots, engineers, and scientists who would go on to become astronauts and who simultaneously sought to break the bonds of social injustice here on earth while also reaching for the stars.
In most ways, I suppose, it could be said that The Space Race is a fairly straightforward documentary, though it is one that is extraordinary in its depth of research and knowledge and emotionally rich in its storytelling. The Space Race is a strikingly beautiful film to be hold, an immersive color palette somehow enhancing our sense of comfort and immersion while the stories of the likes of Guion Bluford, Ed Dwight, and Charles Bolden come to life and remind us those who have had "the right stuff" weave together a far more diverse tapestry than we're often told.
It is to the credit of Cortes and Mendoza that The Space Race is an ambitious film in its transparency, these astronauts admired and respected for their immense contributions yet also given room to acknowledge the impact of racism, oppression, and other systemic obstacles. The conversations here are remarkable and revealing, a respect for NASA companioned by an awareness the lack of credit afforded many of these Black astronauts who should, quite simply, be household names.
There are multiple truly poignant scenes in The Space Race, though perhaps that dealing with Ron McNair's trip on the ill-fated Challenger is the most devastating.
Yet, what is truly both poignant and profound about The Space Race is how Cortes andMendoza have managed to infuse the film with both aeronautic history and a culttural timeline. What's noteworthy, at least for me, is that amidst these cultural markers that I easily remember I am reminded of the presence of these astronauts whose stories are less familiar yet no less impactful in our society. They have, in essence, accomplished greatness yet frequently without being given credit for doing so.
It was impossible for me to reach the end of The Space Race without being in awe of these "afronauts" and their mark on our past, present, and future. Comprehensively documented and vividly brought to life, The Space Race is one of the true hidden gems of the 2023 Heartland International Film Festival.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic