Hilary Swank in Netflix's Away
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Credit: Netflix

Netflix's Away and the working mother

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Sep 18, 2020, 8:30 PM EDT (Updated)

In Netflix's Away, Emma Green (played by Oscar winner Hilary Swank) heads to space as the commander of the first mission to Mars. But throughout Season 1, it isn't smooth sailing, and like so many women in the workplace, Emma finds herself trying to balance her roles as leader, mother, and wife, all while hurtling through space. Yeah, it isn't easy.

Showrunners Andrew Hinderaker and Jessica Goldberg drew from the history of American women in space while researching for the project and depiction of Emma's role — both as an astronaut and a leader.

"I was sort of loosely, very, very, loosely fascinated with Peggy Whitson, the United States astronaut who's had the most time in space and the most time as commander," said Hinderaker. "A lot of people don't know that it's a woman who did that."

Swank spoke with Whitson while preparing for the project too. "She was wonderful and just sharing with me ... From the smallest to the biggest details, I just got to pick her brain, and that was really helpful," she said. "[We discussed] just what it means to be a commander and the responsibility that comes with that, and how does she shape that in a man's world."

Another inspiration for the character of Emma was Mae Jemison, the first Black woman to travel into space. For Hinderaker, Jemison's legacy was in part a more optimistic look at the way Earth should be — one without barriers and not controlled by white men.

"I've always been super-inspired by Mae Jemison who, when she went up to space again ... came up with a number of artifacts. It was like an African American choreographer that she loved that she left there and she sort of said, 'Space should not be the domain of white men.' And that's sort of a philosophy that there was something transcendent about space. What I love about the show is how optimistic [it is], but in a way that's been proven. Like space has shown it, it's done it," said Hinderaker.

Credit: Netflix

While real-life women of space provided a framework for Emma's working life, she also balances her roles as wife and mother. The show begins at her daughter's (Talitha Bateman) soccer game before she rushes to NASA for a press conference. Her husband (Josh Charles) also works at NASA and suffers a health crisis early on in the season. Emma spends the season in space, physically distant from her daughter in order to do her job, and yet still trying to balance her role as mother and astronaut, something Goldberg, herself a working, single mother with a 12-year-old daughter, was drawn to in the original scripts.

"For me, I also just saw on it something I had never seen, which is this sort of revolutionary way of talking about a working mother and a woman who loves her job as much as she loves her family," she said. "So I felt like I had never seen that story of what it is to love your work and your child articulated in that way," Goldberg explained.

Of course, the balance of work and family isn't an issue men typically are asked about, she pointed out.

"I mean, that you do love your work and you love your family and you want both," Goldberg continued. "And for men, that's never really been a question. And for women, it is and you see in the pilot ... [Emma] really has to struggle with that and what to do in this situation. And then that struggle just continues to play out and escalate through the season and that choice."

I'm not a mother, but I was raised by a single mother who continuously balanced her full-time professional career AND her full-time job as a parent. The difficult balance of these roles is something so many women deal with on a day-to-day basis and not one we get to see portrayed enough in pop culture. Away's Emma Green is bringing us one step closer.

Season 1 of Away is now streaming on Netflix.

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