“McFarland, USA” runs into our hearts


Diana Olivares/ The Runner

By Shelby Parker

Senior Columnist

It isn’t every day that Bakersfield rolls out the red carpet for a Hollywood style showing, but Sunday afternoon at Maya Cinemas, Walt Disney Pictures premiered their new movie, “McFarland, USA” based on the 1987 true story.

Several of the up-and-coming actors showed, but everyone was anxiously awaiting Kevin Costner’s arrival.

Costner portrays coach, Jim White, who moves to McFarland, a primarily Latin community, and ends up stumbling upon a few talented runners, who also come from migrant farm worker backgrounds. White then decides to start a cross-country team, and eventually the guys get on board. Although the odds are stacked against them, they prove that the underdogs are the ones with the best stories to tell.

What did it mean to Costner to play the part?

“Well, first, it’s a job,” Costner joked. “No, I mean, I have to decide what I’m going to do in my life, right? I can only do one or two movies a year. So, you know, you look around and you see movies that have a level of heart and truth, and this movie had both of those things.”

Having gone to school in Visalia, the story seemed to resonate with him on a more personal level. He was familiar with driving a lot of the highways, seeing the workers in the fields and understood what they were working so hard for.

Costner has been known to play a variety of roles, but seems to have a soft spot for films in the sports genre. When it comes to playing a real person, that’s when things can become a bit tricky.

“There’s always something that comes with playing a true character. We took a little license in a couple areas, so it wasn’t really as important for me to walk the same way as Jim did, talk the same way – There’s an essence of being a coach, of trying to be in front of kids to try to influence them, and there’s a steadiness that he brought to his community. Kids responded to it, and that’s what I was able to do.”

Costner also added that he was able to spend time with White before shooting, as well as on set. He said that White was very quiet, and never tried to tell him what to do, and he thinks White was happy with what they came up with.

After speaking with Jim and Cheryl White, they liked the way the film turned out, but there are still some differences between life and screen, as is usually the case.

“It’s exciting. It’s a little bit of Hollywood, as far as the movie goes. But, we’re adjusted to that; It’s a beautiful movie,” said Cheryl White, Coach Jim White’s wife, who was glowing and teared up at the excitement buzzing around her.

However, this movie magic didn’t happen overnight. Jim White said that it has been a long process, even starting as long as 15 to 17 years ago.

Jim was also glad that Disney was the one who ended up in control of the production.

“I think between the real stuff, the truth and Hollywood, it’s a very, very good movie,” said Jim. He also advised bringing tissues when you do see the movie.

We all know how this story ends going into the theater, but it’s the journey along the way that will captivate audiences. There’s a little bit of something for everyone who watches. This isn’t just a movie about sports, it’s about humanity. It celebrates life, the value of hard work, friendships, family, going after a dream and not letting obstacles stop you. Isn’t that why we all watch sports movies?

Many locals from the community of McFarland were also occupying the theater, so watching the film, you could certainly feel a sense of pride. When certain landmarks were shown or exciting moment took place on screen, you knew exactly where the locals were sitting because they were cheering and clapping through it all.

The movie’s tagline, “Champions can come from anywhere,” really is what it’s all about. “McFarland, USA” opens everywhere Fri., Feb. 20. and is rated PG.