Actor Kevin Costner gives insight into the social complexities of Disney’s new film
McFarland, USA, a new Walt Disney film set to release on Feb. 20, is based on the true success of McFarland High School’s cross country team in 1987. The team was created by coach Jim White, played in the film by Kevin Costner, after he spotted potential in a group of students from Hispanic farmworker families. The narrative follows White’s character as he creates the team and proceeds to train the group to achieve athletic success. That may sound like one of the biggest clichés in Hollywood, but the social commentary presented in this film proves it to be one that’s worth risking cinematic redundancy for.
“I’m looking for kids that have a desire to do something better,” said the real Jim White when asked in a conference call what inspired him to start the cross country team. “These boys didn’t slack off and jog and walk like everybody else was doing, they actually loved to run— and so you try to look for things like this in young people.”
To Costner, this goes even further. “What it is, is a combination of young men and a man with a level of wisdom, a level of desire, to come together with one goal in mind, and through work they achieved that.” He also added his insight on another facet of the film: commentary on education: “Coaching is not always about the finish line, coaching is about the big picture which is how [the boys are] going to be as men.”
Costner stated that before this project was even conceptualized, he had read a story about McFarland in Sports Illustrated some years before. “I actually played against this community,” said Costner, who grew up in nearby Compton, California. “I played McFarland in baseball.”
Coach White spoke about his portrayal in the movie by stating that the character, “truly shows a love for the kids and a love for the town and the community. I think that you’re going to get that feeling when you see it and that’s a wonderful feeling.”
Costner went on to speak about his efforts to portray White accurately: “I think he’s quintessentially ‘what you see is what you get’ and I fought to try to make no more of that other than the passion that he had to have running deep inside him everyday when he went to coach these kids.”
White emphasized the film’s focus on the migrant field workers of McFarland saying, “the hardships that the kids have to go through working in the fields, that is so, so important to understand.”
“Seeing these people first-hand, up-close, in these fields … they’re simply working these incredible hours through very difficult weather conditions everyday of their lives,” said Costner. “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.”
The film follows the classic sports drama narrative, but such Hollywood formulas can often hold both objective and subjective worth. Whether it’s in the variations, details, aesthetics, or thoughts provoked.
“Films are emotional experiences: they’re not intellectual, they’re emotional,” said Costner, “When movies are working at their very best, they become about moments that you’ll never ever forget and we carry the moments of films throughout our whole lives.”