In Disney’s latest film “McFarland, USA,” an unlikely team of seven runners from an economically challenged farm town becomes a championship cross-country team.
Premiering Friday, the film is based on the 1987 true story of Jim White, the P.E. teacher who assembles and coaches a cross-country team in a predominantly Latino high school in McFarland, California. White turns the team into a track-and-field dynasty that forever changes the working-class community of McFarland.
Kevin Costner plays the role of White and stars alongside Maria Bello, Morgan Saylor and Martha Higareda. The film also cast people from the community, with three locals from the McFarland area starring as runners on the team: Sergio Avelar, Michael Aguero and Ramiro Rodriguez.
“It means an awful lot to the community of McFarland, myself included,” said Coster during a conference call with student media.
The film also explores the socioeconomic and cultural challenges the Latino families faced. The teenagers juggle their lives on the track-and-field team while helping their families provide food on the table.
White hopes the journey of the student cross-country team will resonate with the audience.
“It is really, really true to life hardships that the kids have to go through working in the fields,” White said. “That is so, so important to understand what they’re really going through. And then to come back and have a successful life that they’re having.”
White’s passion for coaching and his influential quality as a leader is what Costner hopes the audience will grasp.
“There’s a quiet dignity to him [White],” said Costner. “I think he is quintessentially what you see is what you get. And I thought to try to make no more of that other than the passion that he had to have burning deep inside him every day when he went to coach these kids. He’s an educator.”
The message Costner hopes viewers will take from the movie is an understanding of those families who want to achieve the American Dream.
“At it’s very core, this is not a movie about running,” Costner said. “It’s not about cross country. This movie is really about the American Dream, and the American Dream in McFarland is alive and well. There’s nothing more American than a parent trying to make their life better for their children.”