‘McFarland, USA’ follows the true-story of coach John White and his all-Latino track team, who despite being newcomers to the sport overcome obstacles to become champions. But director Niki Caro said she was very “conscious” of avoiding a white savior plot.
During an interview with the Motion Picture Association of America’s online magazine, The Credits, the film’s director said the story may be centered around White (Kevin Costner) but its real stars are the the individuals that make up the community.
“We were very conscious of not making a white savior movie, and you could have with the material, but it was really important for us that he be a flawed guy who was ultimately redeemed by the community,” Caro told The Credits. “You see him become a better coach, a better father and a better man through his interaction with this place and these people.”
The sports drama, released last Friday, seems to have struck a chord with critics and currently has a “Certified Fresh” rating from Rotten Tomatoes. In its opening weekend the film brought in $11 million at the box office, according to Deadline.
Not to mention the film is in a league of its own as one of the few movies centered around the U.S. Latino experience. Smaller studios like the Latino-centric Pantelion Films have recently released films like “Spare Parts,” also based on a true story, but Disney’s “McFarland” is the only movie focused on the Latino condition in the United States to come from a major studio in the last few years.
The inspirational tale may have a formulaic underdog story, but the director said she veered away from the formula when she opted to focus more on the human aspect of the story and less on the sports angle.
Many have even noted the movie’s ability to touch upon controversial topics like immigration without getting political. The New Zealand-born Caro says being a foreigner gives her an advantage when telling these types of stories.
“Being an outsider gives you a very privileged point of view to speak about stuff that doesn’t get spoken about a lot, and to do so without an agenda,” Caro said. “Paradoxically, the way I work when it’s not my own culture is I try to be very accurate and faithful to the way lives are lived and not impose my will. I was very keen to portray the Mexican American culture, but I realized that we made a very American movie, a profoundly American movie that happens to have a lot of Mexicans in it.”
“There’s nothing more American than wanting a better life for your children, and working hard to give them that,” the director added. “And that’s all you see there, and I hope that comes through in the movie.”