“McFarland, USA” is finally in theaters this weekend! It has been several months when I first previewed this movie. I think about it often. What that means is that “McFarland, USA” was memorable and meaningful. This is a movie that really touched my heart. I don’t share my personal life very often on this website but I am a teacher in our inner city school district. I put myself in the shoes of Kevin Costner’s character plays “Jim White” where the kids call him “Blanco” in the film. This simple gesture shows how the kids start developing a relationship with Costner and how be eventually becomes their coach/their family. I understand what it is like with more than half of our students at our school speak Spanish. Although there might be a communication barrier you begin to embrace the different cultures and become a community–a family.
“McFarland, USA” is a great mix in a story not only about a low probability sports team doing well and succeeding but it is about a community. I found the movie to also be very inspirational! This is based on a real story of a young team of Latino runners who rise to become cross-country state champions. Even today, this school is considered a real powerhouse in this sport.
Disney did an amazing job when creating this film! I haven’t seen a hero-like coach/sport movie this good in a long time! I definitely see this inspirational movie kicking butt in the box office and doing even better during week two because of the word of mouth after friends and family start seeing it in theaters. This might not have the Marvel budget that you are use to seeing, but it definitely has the classic Rudy-type good feeling movie that will leave you wanting to see this movie more than once!
Fun McFarland, USA Facts
- The McFarland High School cross-country teams have won nine state championships and the small school is considered a powerhouse in the sport.
- Coach Jim White is retired now, but if you go to McFarland, chances are you will see him out there on his bike, keeping up with the kids every evening with a lot of his original team running alongside as well. White retired in 2002 after teaching in McFarland schools for 40 years and coaching for 25 years.
- A number of the original runners on the championship 1987 cross-country team became educators in the McFarland school district.
- Three out of the seven young actors on the team in the movie are from the McFarland area.
- Ramiro Rodriguez had no intention of auditioning when he agreed to drive his cousin to the casting tryouts for “McFarland, USA.” He landed the role of Danny Diaz after being pestered repeatedly by executive producer Mario Iscovich to audition.
- Sergio Avelar is a bona fide runner and a member of the McFarland Track Club. He has been running since 2001 and considers himself a “decent runner.” One of his coaches in middle school was actually Thomas Valles, the real-life person represented by the role that Carlos Pratts plays.
- Actor Rafael Martinez, who is by nature soft-spoken and polite, admits that he cut school in order to audition for the movie.
- In pre-production Niki Caro assembled the actors together—Kevin Costner, Maria Bello, Morgan Saylor and Elsie Fisher—and had them play Monopoly as a family unit. The interesting exercise kick-started a family dynamic that lasted for the entire shoot.
- Kevin Costner, who plays Coach White, was a great hit with the young actors. He quietly mentored them and offered advice if they wanted it but for the boys, listening to Costner’s stories and watching movies with him in his trailer was a highlight. They felt so comfortable with the famous movie star that they even nicknamed him “KC.”
- All seven young actors had to train to become champion runners. Although some had more track and field experience than others, all of them took their drills very seriously. Mark Ellis, the coach hired to train them for the film, would have it no other way and the team evolved over time. But training them wasn’t as simple as merely putting shoes on their feet. Every morning at 8 a.m. the runners showed up for practice, which was literally running and more running to build up endurance.
- The production took the cast and crew to some of the most beautiful spots in Southern and Central California, from Lake Castaic to Malibu to the Griffith Park Observatory, in addition to the fields and neighborhoods of Bakersfield and McFarland.
- There were some unique cinematic opportunities in the filming of the movie, especially the embankments of almonds covered in protective plastic that served as training hills for the team. The expanse of these weird mounds across the landscape was visually arresting and certainly emblematic of McFarland, home to Blue Diamond Almonds.
- Classic lowriders are featured in “McFarland, USA” in several scenes. Lowriders are custom cars fitted with hydraulic jacks that allow the chassis to be lowered almost all the way to the road. Lowriding was very big in California’s Central Valley in the mid-’80s with Bakersfield being one of the lowriding epicenters of the area. Lowriding is often stereotypically depicted as gangster-related in film but the reality is that these car clubs are essentially about family and community and the cars are lovingly treasured.
- Director Niki Caro took particular interest in the “hero-car” lowrider vehicle—and not just in the service of the movie. The car actually belongs to Caro and she likes to drive the 1970s Chevrolet Caprice, which was customized to the movie’s specifications. The beautiful classic features an iconic chain steering wheel and a mural on the hood that is in the likeness of the owner’s girlfriend in the film, Lupe. The painting is in the style of the Virgin of Guadalupe, which is an ongoing visual theme in the movie.