Star comes to town for new movie


Javier Valdes

Kevin Costner, who plays Jim White in "McFarland USA," speaks to reporters on the red carpet for the movie premiere. The movie was screened at the Bakersfield location of Maya Cinemas.

Elizabeth Castillo, Editor in Chief

The Bakersfield community received the star treatment when Maya Cinemas hosted a red carpet and premiere of “McFarland USA.” Several cast members from the film attended the event including Kevin Costner who portrays cross country coach Jim White. The film is based on the true story of McFarland High School and their highly successful cross country team. It takes place in 1987 which is the first year the school won a state championship in the sport. Members from the 1987 cross country team attended the event as well and were impressed by how accurately Disney portrayed the story.

“They did a great job and we’re very happy with the film,” said Damacio Diaz, one of three Diaz brothers that were on the 1987 team. “This experience has been very overwhelming and we feel very humbled by it.”

Diaz is currently a Bakersfield Police detective and now owns land in McFarland. He said that the three most important values in his household growing up were God, family and school. Sports were way down that list of values and he’s happy that he and his brothers excelled in sports at that time. In the film, the Diaz brothers’ mom is portrayed as a strong leader of the household. David Diaz said that Disney portrayed his mother well.

“We’re not ashamed of what our mother did or how she behaved,” he said. “She was a dictator. So what?”

David said that the film did not only portray the lives of Hispanics growing up in McFarland but also of Okies who worked the land before them. He said that “McFarland USA” isn’t just a Hispanic story, but is a representation of life in the Central Valley. Several actors from the film were present at the event. Johnny Ortiz, an actor who played cross country runner Jose Cardenas in the film, said that he was happy that Hispanics were the protagonists of the story.

“Why can’t we be the hero?” he said. “We always have to be the gangbanger so I was really glad to be a part of this film.”

Kevin Costner, a lead role in the film, was also in attendance and said that there were several reasons he wanted to be involved with the film. One was that “McFarland USA” showed that if you give children a goal, and believe they can achieve it, then those kids have a chance to excel just like the cross country runners in McFarland. He also really enjoyed being apart of a true story with an inspirational message.

“But sometimes you get a chance to make a story that actually happens in a community and you feel like its worth telling,” he said. “I remember reading this story a long time ago and for the story to turn into a movie and to somehow find myself in the middle of all of it, its just part of the mystery of life.”

Costner said that it was interesting for someone as successful as Jim White to stay with his community instead of moving on somewhere else. White retired from coaching in 2003 but still has his roots in McFarland. Costner said that hopefully the film can bring national attention to the community of McFarland. White said that he’s happy with the publicity that McFarland is gaining already.

“It’s not about what the film is going to do for McFarland but what it’s already done,” he said. “We just finished building a playground in McFarland and 250 people showed up to help.”

Disney partnered with the non-profit organization KaBOOM! to build the playground for the McFarland community. The playground was built with the help of volunteers. Carlos Pratts, the actor who portrayed Thomas Valles in the film, said that it was great the film could help bring the playground to McFarland. Pratt also said that he was honored to play Valles in the film and spoke with him on several occasions. He hopes that Valles enjoys the film.

“You don’t really think about who you’re playing while making the film because that would put on too much pressure,” Pratts said. “I’m happy with the film and it was awesome to be a part of.”

Ultimately, those involved with the film hope that “McFarland USA” will bring attention to the farming community and help those from McFarland be proud of where they come from.

“Some of us at one time or another might have said that we were from Bakersfield, well now, we can say we’re originally from McFarland,” said David Diaz. “McFarland is a very special place.”