“Tenacity is a superpower,” observes a character in the fact-based profile “A Million Miles Away” (Amazon). And so it seems to prove for the subject of director and co-writer Alejandra Márquez Abella’s warm biopic, Mexican American astronaut José Hernández (Michael Peña).
In adapting Hernández’s memoir “Reaching for the Stars,” Abella traces his remarkable journey from child migrant farm worker to NASA engineer and candidate for a place on the space shuttle. Early on, as he watches the 1969 Moon landing on TV, the youthful Hernández instantly dedicates himself to the longshot goal of following in the footsteps of the Apollo 11 crew.
The odds against the lad are, of course, staggering. Perhaps the earliest of the stumbling blocks he faces, as pointed out by his caring teacher, Miss Young (Michelle Krusiec), is the negative effect on his education of his parents’ migratory work life. Admirably, mum and dad respond to this appeal for greater stability by making an economically sacrificial decision.
Thanks, in part, to their altruism, Hernández goes on to receive his master’s degree in engineering and joins the staff of California’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Yet the fact that may still be a long way off from fulfilling his ultimate ambition is testified to by a telling incident in which, as a newcomer to the lab, he’s mistaken for a janitor.
Abella’s script, penned with Bettina Gilois and Hernán Jiménez, convincingly portrays the lifelong determination Hernández demonstrated – he applied to join the space programme 11 times before being accepted. It also shows the crucial support he received from his loving wife, Adela (Rosa Salazar), and from the rest of his family.
As Hernández overcomes prejudice and breaks down social and economic barriers, teens as well as grownups will profit from his good example and from the strong values by which he’s steadily guided. Additionally, viewers of faith will note the Catholic trappings Abella briefly includes at various points. These at least imply a religious influence on Hernández’s success.
José Moreno Hernández recently told screenrant.com about the process of helping Alejandra Márquez Abella and other screen writers to bring his story to life on screen.
“The good thing is that they had books. I’ve written three books, one my self-penned biography, another one’s a children’s book, and then another one the middle reader. I think that helped them a little bit, at least to put things in sequential order of how they were going to tell it. We had three script writers, Bettina Gilois, Hernán Jiménez, and then our director, Alejandra Márquez Abella and with each one I spent time,” he said.
Hernández was ‘very happy’ with the resulting script.
“They sent me their draft, and I would give them my feedback,” he said.
“Sometimes they took it, sometimes they couldn’t, because of how the scripts work and all that. But again, for the most part, it was done great. And then when Alejandra started shooting I had met with my counterpart actor, Michael Peña. So he got to know my personality and accurately portrayed it. Rosa Salazar portrayed in an excellent manner, my wife, so I think everything was done. I was very happy with it.”
Picture: OSV News photo/courtesy Amazon Studios