Female Mathematicians Are The Real Stars Of 'Gifted'

Fox Searchlight Pictures

Although Gifted technically follows Chris Evans' Frank Adler, the film really revolves around the extraordinary women in his life — his niece, his deceased sister, and his mother. With their brilliant minds and impact on Frank's life, the young girl and two women are the foundation of the movie, so much so that the movie's male lead often plays second fiddle to them. These ladies add so much to the movie, allowing Gifted to highlight women in mathematics in a way most pop culture does not. Math being a subject that girls and women have traditionally been left out of, yet Gifted gives its female characters the recognition they deserve for their intelligent minds and accomplished work in the field.

In Gifted, Evelyn, a British mathematician, compromises her dreams of scholarly glory to come to America and start a family — something she severely regrets. She gives birth to two children, Frank and Diane, and Diane becomes a mathematical genius, spending a large portion of her short life attempting to solve one of the Millennium Prize Problems (a set of seven real mathematical problems so hard they have a $1 million prize if you solve them) at the behest of her mother. Diane's daughter, Mary, is also a math prodigy, but Diane kills herself when her child is a baby — partly because of the pressures placed upon her to be brilliant — and so Frank is forced to raise Mary as a "normal" kid, despite what turns out to be her genetically-gifted mind.

Wilson Webb/Fox Searchlight

Frank himself is no slouch; although he's shown as a blue-collar worker who repairs boats and swigs beers, it's revealed that he was a professor of philosophy at Boston University before his sister's suicide. Yet his intelligence is average, as compared to the women in his family. These ladies, including Mary, are actual geniuses, capable of solving equations and figuring out puzzles with incredible skill and ease.

Most movies about geniuses typically feature a man in the lead role — Searching for Bobby Fischer, Good Will Hunting, A Beautiful Mind, The Theory of Everything, and The Imitation Game all come to mind. Last year, Hollywood gave us Hidden Figures, which features female, mathematical geniuses, but that was the exception. Movies about brilliant women are all too rare, and Gifted, with its portrayal of a family of female geniuses, is a welcome — and relevant — addition to the genre.

Wilson Webb/Fox Searchlight Pictures

Especially because of the impact the movie could have on the real world. There is a persistent gender gap when it comes to the subjects of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) which can begin when children are as young — or even younger — than 7-year-old Mary is in Gifted. This gap is not for lack of ability, but partly due to the perception that boys are stronger in these fields. According to a 2016 study by the American Educational Research Association, "teachers give lower ratings to girls' math skills when girls and boys have similar achievement and behavior" — and that gender gap didn't improve during the 12 years the study was done.

Getting women and girls involved in STEM was an initiative of President Obama's administration, and for good reason; the work done in STEM fields have the potential to benefit the world, and being involved in STEM can offer more leadership opportunities for women in the workforce. And as women have traditionally be underrepresented in STEM subjects, girls seeing women — and other young girls — in these roles is essential to having them realize they can be part of these groundbreaking fields. Although she's a prodigy, and thus a rarity, Mary in Gifted debunks the theory that girls aren't talented in math and shouldn't be involve, with as little effort as it takes her to figure out what 57 multiplied by 135 equals.

Although Gifted doesn't make any outright political or social commentary about the issue of women in STEM, it's still a major deal that the fact that Mary, her mother, and her grandmother are all extremely intelligent and skilled in mathematics is just an accepted part of their lives. And while with their immense talents come some very real struggles, what's refreshing is that these struggles don't really have anything to do with the characters being female. Instead, like happens in many male-centric "genius" movies, Diane is taken advantage of because of her brilliant brain, which is something that Frank is trying to avoid happening to Mary. These ladies being treated as most movie geniuses are, and their gender not being a factor in their challenges, is revolutionary.

As for how Frank deals with female geniuses being a constant fixture in his life, it's a nonissue for him — at least in terms of them being more intelligent than he is. He doesn't seem threatened by the brilliance that Diane displays and that Mary has, and only rejects his mother pushing Mary into the field because of how the pressure so devastatingly impacted his sister's life. And maybe that's why it's OK that this inherently female story is shown from a man's perspective. While women and girls don't need men to approve of their roles in STEM fields, Frank's unspoken acceptance of it shows a norm that the world will hopefully one day achieve. Without even really trying, Gifted shows a future where girls can be the leading minds in a field like mathematics — and that's a stroke of real genius.