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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

"McFarland, USA" a Review and a Wish

By Jody Worsham

All rights reserved for writing lessons and lessons learned

If you have not yet seen the Disney movie “McFarland” do not read any further.  If you have, read on.

If an exceptional movie is based on telling a story that loops through your brain night and day, makes you laugh and cry  at the same time, and finds you thinking, thinking, and still thinking weeks after seeing the movie, then “McFarland” is that kind of movie.

This movie spoke to me on so many levels.

As a Caucasian , I identified with Coach White on his first day in town when he and his family were leaving the restaurant and a group of cars with Latino males drove up.  As a teenager I remember walking around the block to keep from having to walk in front of a store where several teenage Latino boys were leaning against the storefront windows.  They spoke a language I did not understand and that frightened me.

The Diaz boys were on the bleachers just before school was out when their Mama pulled up in a truck to pick them up before class was over.  Coach White told the boys to stay.  “That’s our Mama” the boys said as they left.  “Tell your Mama she can wait.”  The boys laughed and said “You tell her that” and they jumped in the truck.  Family over school.

That first team worked in the fields starting at 4:30 a.m. as pickers before school and after school.  When it was time for school Mama Diaz called out “Run to school.  Show respect to your teachers.”  Respect, always.

When the cross country team had their first match, a white team member from another school commented “I’ve never seen a Mexican run unless a cop was behind him or a Taco Bell was in front.”  McFarland’s team did not respond with anger or hatred; no response was necessary or would have changed anything.  Running the race was the challenge. When McFarland won their first match, the team immediately knelt in prayer and thanksgiving.  God first.

Mr. White was known as White or Blanco to his team until the morning he showed up at 4:30 a.m. to work in the fields alongside his team.  The boys told him to bend his knees to save his back.  They shared their lunch with him.  When he couldn’t work any longer, they had him lay down and worked on his back to relieve the pain. He was soon Coach.   No judgment.  No ridicule.    Only encouragement and acceptance. 

Coach White got the team shoes for their next race.  Mama Diaz and the other ladies were organizing a tamale sale to raise money for the team.  “Why you buy the boys cheap shoes?  You don’t think they deserve good shoes?”  Being poor is an economic state, not a measurement of value.  That kept me thinking for a couple of days.

There were so many other incidents in this movie that had my brain thinking all night. 

As a writer, I appreciate the script for this movie.  It presented so many lessons that sneak up on you in retrospect. It struck common chords in us as human beings.  Mama Diaz pulling her son off the top bunk by his shirt for breakfast had me laughing.  Coach White receiving the phone call that strikes ice in the veins of any parent whose child is out with other kids at night.  No words, silence then “We’ll be right there.”  In the car only murmurings “Please God, no. Please God, no.”  Deafening chords of silence resonating within all parents.   All this without a curse word.

The cinematography and screen writing was so subtle yet powerful.  In one scene the track team runs down along the fence line of the nearby prison before turning a corner.  The white car pulling out and blocking the quincenera parade and then cutting away to the phone call to Coach White.  And the next picture of the ambulance, the police lights, the firemen.  Without showing me any of the graphic details, I shuddered.  The next picture is the store owner hosing down the parking lot in front of his store.  Such a picture!

“McFarland” was never just about a cross country track team.  It was never about just getting out of poverty.  It is about character and discovering who you really are.  It is a journey that simply continued for the Dias boys but along another path provided by Coach White.   For Thomas, it was a chance to make a difference in lives similar yet different from his own.  Victor made his choices and used that experience in his life.   For Coach White it was seeing through different eyes, the same things we all value, the importance below the surface. 

With the exception of Thomas, that first track team still lives in McFarland along with Coach White.  They still run with and encourage McFarland’s cross country team.  It was never about escaping from McFarland; it was always about God, family, respect for themselves and each other and home…..wherever that may be.  


Starting Over, Accepting Changes - Maybe said...

I also loved the movie. It came and went in the theaters quickly to be replaced by blow-them- ups, shoot everyone, littered with degrading words, horror beyond horror, money making pictures. I don't understand why great stories about good decent people that entertain and make you feel hopeful about the world fail at the box office.

sharon said...

I didn't see it either. Thank you so much for the review, Jody. It's a good story with many teaching points. I'll be sure to rent it when it comes out.

fishducky said...

I ordered it on Netflix--don't know when it will be out, though!!