For decades Disney has suffered from a dearth of real Latino stories, but the studio seems to be changing that with “McFarland, USA.”
The upcoming movie is inspired by a 1987 true story and follows a group of Latino students in a California farming town who, with the help of their P.E. teacher Jim White (Kevin Costner), build their high school’s first cross-country team. The boys run into a series of issues on and off the track but learn to band together to prevail.
“This is a farming town. These kids working here are invisible. They come from the fields and they go back to the fields,” is how the film’s trailer, released last week, opens. Right from the start audiences know this sports drama will not only follow the vein of its inspiring predecessors (think “Field Of Dreams,” also starring Costner), but will deal with social issues that are a reality for many Latino children who are migrant workers.
Based on the trailer, the movie aims to not only highlight the difficulties that some Latino families and their children face on a socio-economic front but also on a cultural level.
Costner’s character, for example, portrays a well-meaning non-Latino teacher who despite his best intentions falls for Latino-related misconceptions. But as evident by the trailer’s final funny exchange, these cultural mishaps are light-hearted rather than antagonistic.
The film, slated for release on Feb. 20, was directed by Niki Caro and will star Costner alongside a slew of young Latino actors. Carlos Pratts plays one of the protagonist novice athletes, Thomas, in the film and was recently asked by Variety Latino about whether he thinks Hollywood is now more interested in Latino-themed stories.
“Well yes. Right now there are more stories, like ‘Jane the Virgin,” ‘Cristela,’ [and] thank god ‘McFarland, USA’,” Pratts said in a video interview. “There will always be stories for Latinos and Latinas but I think the stories are now changing for the better.”
And the rise of Latino stories in Hollywood is no coincidence. After the unexpected, record-breaking) U.S. success of Eugenio Derbez’s 2013 Spanish-language “Instructions Not Included,” research companies like Nielsen and news outlets like The Wrap and Entertainment Weekly have placed more emphasis on the power of the Latino moviegoer.
“McFarland, USA” marks a drastically different turn from past debacles concerning Latino characters and content, including the controversial debate over the first supposed Latina Disney princess and protests over the company's application to trademark Día de los Muertos.