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Disney's 'McFarland USA' Starring Kevin Costner is Based on Latino Students' Inspiring True Story of First Cross-Country Team

First Posted: Nov 19, 2014 01:33 PM EST

Tackling diversity hasn't been Disney's strongest point when it has involved Latino representation.

The Walt Disney Company reportedly received much criticism from the appearance of the "first Disney Latina" who was fair-skinned, with light eyes and auburn hair and backlash for trying to trademark the sacred Mexican/Latin American holiday, the Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos), which insulted many Latinos and non-Latinos.

Yet like all warm-hearted feel-good Walt Disney Pictures-produced movies, the studio is hoping to redeem itself with Latinos through its upcoming heroic sports film, "McFarland, USA," starring Kevin Costner and Carlos Pratts ("The Bridge"), and in turn, have a good ending to its story involving its ongoing path to diversification.  

Considering there has been a surge in box-office attendance for Latinos, it's also not a bad idea to try and get it right this time, as other companies and studios are aiming to do. Case in point -- director/illustrator Jorge Gutierrez and Oscar-winning producer Guillermo del Toro's "The Book of Life." The beautifully-crafted, 20th Century Fox and Reel FX film recently knocked it out of the park by depicting authentic Mexican culture with its unprecedented, vibrant, Day of the Day-inspired animation.

"I hope that I can open more doors for Latin-inspired content and animations in children's media," Gutierrez told Latin Post in an earlier exclusive interview. "Kids are the future of course, and if they see other cultures up on the screen as something normal, I think that's my dream. Honestly, I didn't see myself in animated features. I kept waiting for the Mexican [Disney] princess to show up, and she never did, so 'The Book of Life' is an answer to that."

"McFarland, USA" fits into this type of genre and is also based on real life.

"Inspired by the 1987 true story, 'McFarland, USA' follows novice runners from McFarland, an economically challenged town in California's farm-rich Central Valley, as they give their all to build a cross-country team under the direction of Coach Jim White (Costner), a newcomer to their predominantly Latino high school," according to the film's official website.

Coach White recognizes the McFarland students' "exceptional running ability" as he gets to know them personally. Then it becomes clear that the power goes beyond their physical talent, but it stems from their stong family bonds, their "unwavering commitment" to each other and their amazing work ethic. With hard work and determination, the students overcome the odds and evolve into a championship cross-country team who leave behind an enduring legacy and a new take on the ever-evolving American dream.

"McFarland, USA" also tackles cultural challenges and stereotypes that Latino families face on a daily basis.

Pratts, who plays Thomas, one of the aspiring runners, was asked by Variety Latino if he thinks there will be an uptick in interest in Latino-inspired storylines in Hollywood.

"Well yes. Right now there are more stories, like 'Jane the Virgin," 'Cristela,' [and] thank god 'McFarland, USA'," Pratts said, The Huffington Post reports. "There will always be stories for Latinos and Latinas but I think the stories are now changing for the better."

"Kevin es una gran estrella con un gran corazón," (Kevin is a big star with a big heart), Pratts also told Variety Latino during the video interview.

Costner, who's known to give genuine performances, forms a bond with his Latino students and the cultural divide is embraced as we witness the "Field of Dreams" actor say, "uno, dos, tres!" as the team all put in their hands.

"The bigger lesson was understanding that people have to do this every day to feed their families. From sun-up to all kinds of hours, in all kinds of conditions," Costner said, according to USA Today. "In America, this is a lot of people's journey, doing these kinds of jobs hoping their sons and daughters will do better. This is a very American story."

In addition to "The Bridge's" Pratts, "McFarland, USA" also stars other young Latino talent, including Sergio Avelar, Johnny Ortiz, Hector Duran, Ramiro Rodriguez, Jamie Michael Aguero and Rafael Martinez, among others. American actress Maria Bello, who starred in "Coyote Ugly" and "Thank You for Smoking," also stars in the film.

"McFarland, USA" was directed by New Zealand indie director Niki Caro.

"I was inspired by these kids' physical, mental and spiritual endurance. Those qualities are perfect for running," Caro said. "My mandate is to be culturally specific and authentic. And I backed that vision all the way - not just pay it lip service," she added. "I hope this story breaks new ground in the types of stories Disney tells."

Do you think Disney's "McFarland, USA" will resonate with Latino movie-goers?

Check out the official trailer for "McFarland, USA," which hits theaters on Feb. 20, 2015.

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