*I received an all expense paid trip thanks to Disney and ABC studios. All my opinions are my own and not swayed by outside sources.*
McFarland USA is opening in TWO days! Are you excited?! I know after I visit Disney this coming weekend, I definitely plan to take my entire family to see this inspiring film, that is done to perfection. I already have a date with my daughter and husband, and another date with my best friend and her daughter. It is a film that can be seen over and over again! While I can’t force you to go see this movie, know that if you don’t, you are truly missing out. Not too many movies give me goosebumps and this one surely did!
When I was on my press trip two weeks back for McFarland USA, I not only had the privilege to screen this movie in advance, but to also meet with the talent (including Kevin Costner) as well as the real inspirations behind the film. We had the chance to interview the REAL Jim White, David Diaz, Damacio Diaz & Danny Diaz, who provided the actual real-life story, which was then brought to film and acted out by some fabulous actors including Kevin Costner. These boys (or grown men now) and their father figure, Jim White, were so moving and you can tell what an absolutely incredible bond they had from the time they were young to the present day.
We first started out by asking them if the McFarland USA movie did a good job with depicting the fact that they were pickers growing up. We were interested in knowing if they thought the movie did a good job of portraying them and their cultural lifestyles throughout.
“Yeah, we’re very, very proud of the way the movie portrayed us, our family. We were raised in the field our entire life. We started picking and hoeing and raking and doing everything you could possibly think of. We were about seven or eight years old when all that began. So for us, it was a way of life. Even some of us, after graduating college, like Danny, the day after he graduated from the university with the diploma, he was in the fields working, because that was in our family, what was expected.” –Damacio Diaz
They continued to go on to tell us how proud they are of how Hollywood and Disney depicted them in this movie. While the movie showcases some scenes where David Diaz’s mom could be strict, he told us that this was absolutely the way he was raised. With an abundance of love but in a very strict environment. In fact David Diaz’s mother in real life told producers that they didn’t portray her strict enough in the movie. I had to laugh!
The next question asked was how has McFarland changed since it has been made into a movie. I loved how humble these boys were and told us straight how it was. They did not sugar coat any answers for us. They told us that McFarland has not changed since the movie was made. They mentioned to us that McFarland is a very small population with around nine to ten thousand people with a slight increase in population over the last few years.
” You’re driving on 99, the freeway, and you blink and you’ll miss it. There’s not much to do there. We don’t have the big malls. We don’t have actually any malls. And we don’t have the big grocery stores. It’s a fun place to be. If it weren’t for sports, our kids would be lost, because it’s either, education and sports, or the streets. And those are, are the two extremes and those are the two options that are there for our community.” –Danny Diaz
The actors noted that they were so happy to see Jim White get the recognition that he so rightfully deserves for not only what he did to the program but to the community, as well. At this point, Jim White mentions while the story or culture has not changed, the city logo of McFarland is now changed. They now feature the silhouette of a runner, and it stands for Tradition, Unity, and Excellence.
After this, we talked about the actual running part. As a runner, I was so completely intrigued by some of their answers. While watching this movie, I could not believe what they went through and how rigorous their training was to win the state championships. While I know a bit about running, I learned very quickly that todays training and what these boys did back in the day, are two totally different things. These boys ran 3-5 miles everyday and trained on some of the steepest hills I have ever seen. It was so completely inspirational to me. While I am personally injured now, when I get back to running, I am going to use these boys as my inspiration to get going again. Their sheer determination to win was showcased throughout the movie. To me, they are awe-inspiring. They still meet up to this day to run, although their mileage obviously has tapered off.
After talking about the running, we were all interested in how they felt being the real life inspirations behind this film.
“Well, from my, my aspect, I guess, it was in various stages, because this was about a 15-year process for us, my wife and I. We signed with this one company. Two years later, we signed with another one. Not quite that long but it was a long process. When Disney picked it up we were thrilled because then we knew that it couldn’t have any sex, cussing, or cigarettes. We were very happy that was going to take place.” -Jim White
To draw from some of these phenomenal people, the producers and real life actors met with all of them prior to the movie being filmed, as well as during it. Jim White, David Diaz, Damacio Diaz & Danny Diaz were able to tell their story and they were very proud of how all the correct detailing was displayed in the movie. I think the funniest comment was from David Diaz who mentioned that while they kept true to the story, they did make him chubby in the movie, which was a bit different from how he was growing up. I think we all got a bit of a laugh when he said this to us. In the end, they were just happy that Disney chose the first year of McFarland winning, which happened to be their year. If they decided to film a different year of McFarland winning, they may have not been included in the film.
It was noted that a lot of the running team later went on to be teachers and they mentioned that a big part of this was having Jim White as their teacher and mentor.
“Jim White was a very inspirational part. You know, we, we are a God-fearing folks, so we were teaching in Sunday school and we were part of the Royal Rangers. We did that on Tuesday nights at our local church. Mr. White was there as, as a person that we can rely on. And, and believe it or not, before he was a coach, he’s a scientist. He, he was a fifth grade teacher and before he was a P.E. teacher. And so, he’s a very knowledgeable guy when it comes to that — you pick up any type of bug or any type of leaf, he knows what it is.” -David Diaz
Along with Jim White, they also mentioned how their parents encouraged them to go on to college and be successful. Going to college was not the everyday norm at that time, but their parents pushed them in the right direction and teaching became very important to them. It was a very big deal, back in the day, in McFarland, to not only finish high school, but finish college too. Even the Diaz dad, Paul, went back to complete his education after seeing his boys through college. I thought that was very true to the kind of people they are and what we saw that day in the interview.
While education was important, so was playing sports throughout high school for them!
“My dad encouraged us to play sports. Matter of fact, he ordered us and he forced us and he made us play sports, because the way he saw it, it taught you discipline. It taught you and gave you character. It taught you how to accept losing or winning. And so, that was something that we did since we were third, fourth, fifth graders and by the time we got to college, training and running was so very important. Some of us traveled out of the state, out of the country with Mr. White and it became something that was gonna help us get out of our environment, and it did.” –Damacio Diaz
Playing sports is something that I fully appreciate as raising character and this was seen over and over again in the movie. The boys stressed to us that playing sports taught them discipline, character, and allowed them to succeed in their lives. It was very moving to hear this!
We ended the interview talking about their lives now and how it takes a community to raise a child in McFarland. All the real life inspirations now have large families that work together as a team. It is still easy to get distracted and off course in McFarland, but they always look out for one another. It takes a village to raise a family in McFarland but they all do it together. It was very moving to see, especially the fact the Jim White was and continues to be a second father to these boys.
It was a fascinating interview to me and I was amazed how humble, as well as, gracious they all were in the interview. By the end, we all had a tear in our eye because of the bond that was seen between all of them.