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'The Erasure Was Happening in Real Time’: Grace Hopper Documentary Comes Out Today

The film is actress Gillian Jacobs's directorial debut.

A documentary on the early coder and computer visionary Grace Hopper comes out today as part of ESPN and FiveThirtyEight’s new Signals series.

Called “The Queen of Code” and directed by actress Gillian Jacobs, the film follows Hopper and other women programmers, who had been wiped out of computer history but are now seeing a popular resurgence.

As the percentage of women in computer science continues to slide, many activists and historians are attempting to perform a revisionist history of the computer, putting women back into the picture.

Jacobs, known for her role in the TV show “Community,” said she didn’t know much about Grace Hopper when the project started, but felt drawn to it when ESPN pitched her.

“There’s so much in the news right now about the terrible state of women and people of color in tech. And it really blew my mind to realize women had been there in the very beginning and helped define what we think of as a programmer,” Jacobs said.

Even during Hopper’s time, she and other programmers were being left out of history. When newspapers took pictures, they’d leave the women out of the shot.

“The erasure of women was happening in real time,” Jacobs said.

Jacobs, who graduated from Juilliard, is a history buff, so the research appealed to her hugely. Jacobs, who now has a role on “Girls,” talked with Jesse Thorn about “Community” and being a history nerd:

For the documentary, Jacobs wanted to focus on Hopper’s personality: Hopper was funny, with a very dry sense of humor (see the Letterman video below). She was a very good saleswoman and a popular teacher at Vassar.

Hopper was also very traditional, Jacobs said. She didn’t identify as a feminist or with women’s liberation. Even during Vietnam, when the military was deeply unpopular, she would show up to teach her class at Vassar in full naval dress.

Yet she was also a bit eccentric.

“She didn’t identify herself as a hippie at all. But I found out these weird personality quirks,” Jacobs said. “In pictures, she seems like a very severe woman in horn-rimmed glasses. But she was really surprising. She loved to collect dolls and figurines, and at the end of her life she had three apartments full of dolls and figurines and tchotchkes.”

This article originally appeared on

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