Why Michael Peña’s A Million Miles Away Shot In Mexico, Which Was An Excellent Idea

 Michael Pena as Jose Hernandez in A Million Miles Away
Michael Pena as Jose Hernandez in A Million Miles Away

NASA astronaut José M. Hernández’s inspiring journey to the stars, which has now been told through Amazon Prime’s A Million Miles Away, epitomizes the American Dream. The latest of the great space movies tells the story of Hernández’s life from being born in California to Mexican-American migrant farm workers, to earning a spot in NASA after years of rejection from the program, and finally going to space. While these events greatly took place across the United States, writer/director Alejandra Márquez Abella had a great reason why she wanted the production to be in Mexico.

Alejandra Márquez Abella is a Mexican filmmaker who helmed her first English-language feature film with A Million Miles Away starring Michael Peña and Rosa Salazar. While José M. Hernández’s story greatly takes place across the United States, Abella spoke with CinemaBlend why she chose not to shoot on location. In her words:

I think it's important to create a community. This film was shot in Mexico. I was super insistent and persistent that we do that and I'm glad about this, that I got to share my own opportunity to do something great with my team and with everyone who I worked with before.

You wouldn’t necessarily know it by watching the movie, now streaming with an Amazon Prime subscription, but A Million Miles Away cast and crew shot the whole project in Mexico. As Abella explained:

We didn't know where this film was gonna be shot, and I had the idea of shooting it in Mexico to bring a sort of reverse migration to the actual thing. And it was a very nice thing. I mean, we had to mock Houston and California and Florida and NASA, you know, but I think it turned out very nicely… The whole crew was Mexican. And I'm so proud of everything that we did together.

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It was an inspired idea on Alejandra Márquez Abella’s part considering the entire movie is a tribute to a Mexican-American family, and how against all odds, José Hernández followed his dream to become a NASA engineer and venture out into space. It's incredible that the filmmaker decided to use her opportunity to give back to her people and provide jobs to a completely Mexican crew on A Million Miles Away. The decision encapsulates the spirit of Hernández’s story.

A Million Miles Away is an adaptation of José Hernández’s book Reaching For The Stars: The Inspiring Story of a Migrant Farmworker Turned Astronaut, which was published back in 2012. After growing up working alongside his family on the fields of California, Hernández earned a B.S. in Electrical Engineering and M.S. in Electrical and Computer Engineering, and would go on to develop the first full-field digital mammography imaging system, which helped aid the early detection of breast cancer.

The movie sees Peña, who notably was part of The Martian cast prior to this role, playing Hernández as he faces a number of obstacles on his way to being accepted to the NASA program in 2004 in Houston, Texas. He was turned down eleven times prior to his acceptance. The astronaut would go on to embark on the Space Shuttle Discovery in 2009 as a mission specialist, amidst other accomplishments.

You can learn about José M. Hernández’s story with Alejandra Márquez Abella’s A Million Miles Away, streaming on Amazon Prime now.