‘A Million Miles Away’ Director Explains Why José Hernández’s Farm Worker ‘Origins’ Helped Him Become an Astronaut
Alejandra Márquez Abella is a director who believes in highlighting truth in her projects. For her latest film, “A Million Miles Away,” she wanted to bring “the truth to the screen.” She says that the film is helping society move away from the “stereotypical” representation that Latinos have held within media.
“A Million Miles Away” premiered on Amazon Prime Video and follows the story of NASA astronaut José Hernández. Mexican American actor Michael Peña takes on the role of Hernández as he journeys from migrant farm work to nabbing a seat on the Discovery shuttle mission in 2009. The move also highlights Hernández’s tenacity — he applied 12 times to NASA’s space program.
Márquez Abella tells mitú, “When I was invited to this project, I cried. So I said, ‘This is an important story to tell.’ You know, it’s emotional by itself. It’s motivational by itself. And this was a challenge for me just to bring justice into this portrayal of a man who achieved everything. It’s just so admirable, you know, it’s everything. So, for me, that was a challenge. I have to be fair to this man, and I have to be fair to this story. And that’s huge and difficult.”
“A Million Miles Away” highlighted the community and tenacity found in Latinos
In the film, one of the few BIPOC NASA colleagues Hernández had reminded him during a pivotal moment that “tenacity is a superpower.” This reminder helps propel his already healthy determination to make it to space. He applied to the space program 11 times before making it in on this 12th try.
Hernández grew up seeing his parents and community’s strength as a child. Something Márquez Abella notes affected the way he would approach life and his dreams.
“I would add something that’s important for me that it’s not despite your origins that you’re going to achieve things. It’s because of your origins and the effect of your beginning[s] [that are] going to make things possible for you,” she affirms.
The “El Vato” director continues, “[It’s] a lesson of acceptance and self-love that I think it lacks in many communities of immigrants. So I think it is important to know that you don’t have to change. You don’t have to be like someone else. You can be yourself because it’s in you, and you have it. And it’s going to come out if you make peace with yourself — with your origin.”
Another superpower present within Latinos? Their sense of community, Márquez Abella cites.
“I think that’s another superpower that Latinos have. I think community is something that the world is losing, and we should bring it back because success [is] not a matter of an individual. You have to have a huge team to make things happen,” the “Semana Santa” director says.
The film highlights the strength of Hernández’s family’s contributions, especially those of his wife Adela
“A Million Miles Away” dives into the sacrifices that the engineer and former astronaut’s parents made. As migrant farm workers, they would travel in the early hours of the day to visit farms and pick produce.
His parents would do this to support their family and help build a home in their native Mexico. Due to an intervention from a teacher, they gave up this dream so that their children may have a better chance and education in the United States.
Another person who sacrificed much for Hernández to pursue his dream? His wife, Adela. While initially, she had to put her dreams on hold, she would eventually achieve them. Márquez Abella wanted to highlight Adela’s strength.
“I’m a feminist. So, I didn’t want to show the astronaut’s wife as we’ve seen them just sitting and waiting for them to come back. I think Adela’s vision and [her] love and [her] care — as many Latina women have and do for their families and their communities — was pivotal for José to achieve everything,” Márquez Abella asserted.
“She was the boosters on the rocket, I tell her. And the real Adela was a big inspiration for me. I was a bit afraid of her at the beginning, and then I enjoyed hearing her side of the story,” she quips.
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