A Sobering Look At The Could-Have-Been Female Astronauts
If there’s one thing you can count on with Netflix, it’s the consistently high quality documentaries it churns out and Mercury 13 is no exception. This 70 minute film tells the true story of the Mercury 13 – a group of women training to be astronauts that were snubbed in favour of men. Mercury 13 is an eye-opening and often emotionally charged documentary told through the eyes of the actual women who experienced this sexism firsthand. Boasting a great choice of epic, orchestral music and a consistent pacing throughout, Mercury 13 is an informative documentary and another solid entry to the Netflix documentary catalogue.
The story begins with the introduction of women into the world of American aviation, more specifically following the life of American pioneer Jacqueline Cochran who was instrumental in paving the way for other women to follow her example into the world of aviation and eventually space travel. The documentary then takes a look at each of the women in the Mercury 13 line up, detailing the rigorous training they had to endure only for the heartbreak of not being selected over a male-only qualification standing in their way. It’s at this point that Mercury 13 teeters a little on the side of emotionally charged bitterness, with the women declaring NASA a “men’s only club” and that they never got a chance to declare “one small step for womankind”, perhaps inadvertently discrediting the women that actually did work for NASA at this time in history.
Still, despite the slightly biased approach to telling the story during the middle chunk of this documentary, Mercury 13 is a very well produced documentary that once again shows Netflix consistently produced content in this category with a sharp eye for excellent cinematography. The interesting use of orchestral music alongside archival interviews, footage and close-ups of official documents do a good job of illuminating the attitude and mood of the time period. Countering these predominantly black and white visuals are a number of face to face interviews with either close family or the original members of the Mercury 13, telling their story with passion and enthusiasm except for the aforementioned bites of dialogue describing what they thought of the men that held seats on the Apollo rocket at that time.
In this time of female empowerment and gender equality, Mercury 13 could not have been released at a better time. The courageous fight the women put up against an unfair and biased system paved the way for female astronauts to follow in their footsteps. Although this gives reason enough for celebration and positivity, vast stretches of Mercury 13 are consumed by the bitter resentment of the women and their close family members interviewed. It’s not a deal breaker but it is significant enough to make this far more emotionally driven than it should be, clouding some of the educational content obtained from this fascinating and eye-opening story.
Mercury 13 continues the trend of solid documentaries released by Netflix with an empowering, sobering look at the space race and attitude toward women in the 60s. Whilst the tone of the film does slip a little into the realm of emotionally driven bitterness, Mercury 13 manages to reign this in for a smartly written, positive ending showing the current climate of space travel involving female astronauts. With excellent cinematography and a good pacing throughout, Mercury 13 ticks all the boxes to make it an enjoyable and informative documentary worth checking out, even if it does slip up a little during the middle chunk of content.