New Film Explores the Life of First Migrant Farmworker Astronaut

A tongue-in-cheek note just prior to the closing credits provides us with one final smile: “José is the first migrant farmworker to have traveled to space.” This footnote encapsulates what this biopic is all about – dreams, commitment, sacrifice, and overcoming obstacles.

Writer-director Alejandra Márquez and co-writers Bettina Gilois, and Hernán Jiménez adapted A Million Miles Away from José M. Hernández’s memoir, Reaching for the Stars: The Inspiring Story of a Migrant Farmworker Turned Astronaut, creating a wonderful (and yes, inspirational) viewing experience for the entire family. In fact, it’s the perfect selection for family movie night.

Superb character actor Michael Peña (the underrated End of Watch, 2012) takes the lead as José M. Hernández, who grew up in a family of migrant farmworkers bouncing from one town to another working in the fields. Even as a child, José worked alongside his family whenever he wasn’t in school. And it was one teacher in particular who went above and beyond to change the trajectory of José’s life.

Recognizing his potential, and his dream of going into space, the teacher spoke with respect to his parents in terms that made sense. Her actions, along with José’s dad passing along his recipe for success, the five ingredients serve as chapters in the film; allowed José to passionately pursue his dreams.

Along the way, José met and married Adela (Rosa Salazar, Alita: Battle Angel, 2019), and the two began a partnership and a family; a large family. The theme of family is present throughout José’s story, as support and sacrifice are necessary at every step. We see group hugs in good times and bad. We see doses of reality when needed, and we learn that “tenacity is a superpower” as José begins his years-long pursuit of being accepted into NASA – a goal he achieved after eleven letters of regret.

Everyone faces obstacles, and some are greater than others. What sets some folks apart is their motivation to continue the pursuit. Perhaps words of wisdom from a parent or spouse hit at just the right time, or maybe it’s that one teacher who inspires a “can do” approach with a response to the “When I grow up…” essay assignment. Whatever else is involved, we recognize the tenacity that José displayed, and this film will likely inspire others to follow their own dreams.

Supporting roles are played well by Julio César Cedillo and Veronica Falcón as José’s parents, Garret Dillahunt and Sarayu Blue as astronauts, and Bobby Soto as a special cousin. Peña flashes the charm and likability to become the hero we admire, and director Márquez eschews the cliches expected from such a story. The actual clips and photos at the end only add to this heartwarming movie perfectly suited for family movie night.