I’ve never been a fan of astronaut movies. Although I’m guilty of singing at the top of my lungs, “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing,” I’ve always believed that rockets are the size of the male ego behind the camera. That is until A Million Miles Away.
Director Alejandra Marquez Abella completely changes the narrative of a hero, foregrounding the force behind it, in this case, that of women and a community.
A Million Miles Away and the Story of the Latinx Community
To read online reviews of Amazon’s biopic telling the story of Jose Hernandez is to find time and time again how people outside our community miss the mark. Yes, this is the story of a Mexican migrant son of farm workers. Yes, it is a story of sacrifice and obstacles. But it is also the story of an entire community.
After all, he needed a support network bigger than his fears to become the first Latinx to reach space.
Jose Hernandez’s parents, like thousands of Mexican migrants in the 1960s, were farm workers who tended the fields in deplorable conditions. Márquez Abella does not overlook this and foregrounds it with images of the battered hands of children helping their parents pick the harvest.
In fact, as Cathy A. Vasquez of the University of Texas recalls, these workers had no protections and rarely received the wages they deserved for their hard work. This is one of the many stories that early generations of migrants told over and over again to their children so they would not forget the sacrifices made in search of a better future.
Without mentioning Cesar Chavez or the United Farm Workers Union, A Million Miles Away narrates one of our community’s crucial episodes with an expert and delicate eye.
The Power of Details
How often have we said Hollywood doesn’t know how to speak to Latinx people? How many times have we felt that we are being made commonplace as if to fulfill a diversity requirement?
Well, A Million Miles Away satisfies each and every aesthetic need that I, a person from the Latinx community, have been longing to see on the big screen. And it does so by telling a true story without the need for Marvel-style animated heroes.
One need only look at the delicately curated narration of the soundtrack, which represents an entire generation of musical storytelling. Framed by original tracks composed by the Mexican Institute of Sound, A Million Miles Away kicks off with a unique piece: Calexico’s version of “California Dreamin’” by the Mamas & the Papas.
Powerful scenes like Hernandez’s parents and his school teacher at the kitchen table wouldn’t be as incisive in a Latinx audience if they weren’t accompanied by songs like Fredy Rodriguez Velazquez’s “Me Vas a Negar Tres Veces.”
Without going too far, that José Alfredo Jiménez’s “El Hijo del Pueblo” plays in key transition scenes is simply audiovisual mastery.
Likewise, that song sung by José Hernández as he arrives at the parking lot of his first work, “Contrabando y Traición” by Los Tigres del Norte, perfectly explains the identity diatribe of José and so many other children of immigrants forced to “adapt” to a society guided by stereotypes.
And Speaking of Stereotypes, That Impala Shines
To a white person, the blue Impala of the main character in “A Million Miles Away” may seem like an extravagance. For Latinx, especially Chicanos, it is a symbol of an entire counterculture.
The link between Chicano culture and automobiles, that is low riders, is critical to the community’s identity. That’s why the electric blue of Jose’s Impala is so important to the viewer. And when he changes it? Well, we can all agree with the feeling of “forgetting who you are.”
A Tribute to Tenacity
The director’s cinematic decision to spin the story through Jose’s father’s anti-tiredness and fatigue prescription is the ultimate tribute to the Latinx community’s superpower — tenacity.
Latinxs, and especially the children of immigrants, know that to get through life’s hardships, you must first know what you want. The second thing is to see where you are and how far you have to go to get there. Third, think about how you’re going to get there. Fourth, if you don’t know, you have to learn. And fifth, when you think you’ve made it, you’ll probably have to try even harder.
That is, without a doubt, the formula for success of the Latinx community, today one of the most thriving in the United States.
The Real Force Behind
Looking beyond the hero’s arc in A Million Miles Away is, as all Latinx know, the strength of a woman. Whether it is Adelita or José’s mother, the women always push the cart to get it going.
It is the woman who, with just a look, knows how to point her husband in the right direction. She is the real force behind literally putting a man in space.
In fact, at the moments in the film when we tire of the hero’s quejadera, naivety, and passivity, it is the woman who comes out like a force of nature to put a plan in motion, all while attending to not one, but five children at home and a restaurant.
In short, beyond celebrating the milestone of a Latino man, A Million Miles Away tells the true story of our community, our women, and the strength we often forget we have in our wounded hands.