One of the things that the best art does is inspire people. Great stories, even fictional ones, can motivate people to take risks and follow dreams. This is something that Jessica Chastain understands implicitly. She wants young girls to see women as astronauts on film and follow them, turning science fiction into reality – and believes that The Martian is a big step for that movement.
It’s an often repeated statistic that the science and engineering departments of most universities are severely lacking in women. Chastain recently told The Hollywood Reporter that she hopes movies like her upcoming film, The Martian, as well as other major sci-fi films with women as astronauts, will inspire women to do the same thing in real life. She told the trade,
I'm hoping with Interstellar and Gravity and now The Martian that young girls are gonna watch this film, and they're gonna want to go to Mars... And we'll open up a whole new career path for girls who didn't think it was a possibility.
Chastain says that attending space camp and learning what the astronauts know was a major reason she signed on to co-star in the movie. She also had the opportunity to visit the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, as well as NASA’s Houston Space Center. NASA, and STEM fields in general, are notoriously male dominated so many young girls would be forgiven for feeling like it’s an area not meant for them. However, somebody is going to have to get off their butt and figure out how to get to Mars, and anybody with a gift for science and the bravery to fly off into space is needed.
The Martian stars Matt Damon as an astronaut who gets inadvertently stranded on Mars and must combat the hostile environment to survive. While Damon is one to draw a stark comparison between this film and Interstellar, the Christopher Nolan film does co-star Anne Hathaway as a scientist and biologist. Sandra Bullock was nominated for an Oscar for her role as an engineer who ends up adrift in outer space in Gravity. Chastain’s character in The Martian is that of the mission’s commander, so she’s not just an astronaut, she’s an astronaut and the boss.
When women make up more than half of the world’s population, they make up a small fraction of staffs of major science and technology companies. There have been a number of different organizations founded to try to inspire girls to study science, but why can’t a movie do the same thing? It’s all too common that women get pigeonholed into certain professions or subjects simply because they’re women. Hopefully this trend of women as astronauts will continue, until it becomes so common that of course she’ll be an astronaut one day, she’s a girl.