I love movies that are based on true stories (especially ones like McFarland USA). I love to have my faith in humanity restored. I also love to watch a feel good story that really did happen.
Can you imagine what it would be like for a movie studio to turn part of your life into a movie? Wouldn’t it be surreal? That is why it was so amazing and cool that I got to interview Jim White, David Diaz, Damacio Diaz, and Danny Diaz. These men were the real life inspirations for McFarland USA. These were the guys running in the California heat and winning state titles.
Being that most of us aren’t pickers, we didn’t know if the movie really held true to the culture. Our first question we asked if the movie did a good job portraying their lives. Damacio Diaz answered:
We’re very proud of the way the movie portrayed us and our family. We were raised in the field. We started picking, hoeing, raking, and doing everything you could possibly think of. We were about seven or eight years old when all that began. 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 his diploma, he was in the fields working, because that was, in our family, what was expected.
We got a glimpse of the Diaz family in McFarland USA. We asked if their mom really was that way, because she was a scene stealer. David first answered:
Not at all. Much worse.
The Mr. White told us:
Let, let me answer that, because when Mrs. Diaz saw this film the first time, she came out and she said I love the film, but they didn’t make me strict enough.
We then asked how McFarland had changed now that the movie’s gone. Danny told us:
I can answer that. Growing up in McFarland, we didn’t have much. There’s nothing to do in McFarland. When we were growing up, maybe seven, eight, nine, ten thousand people is the population. It’s grown a little bit in the last two, three years, but not much has changed. It’s a poor community. If you’re driving on 99, the freeway, and you blink, and you’ll miss it. We don’t have the big malls. We don’t have actually any malls. We don’t have the big grocery stores. It’s just a fun place to be. If it weren’t for sports, our kids would be lost, because it’s either, you know, education and sports or the streets. Those are the two extremes, and those are the two options that are there for our community. Right now, our community is excited obviously with the movie and rightfully so — all the notoriety that they’re getting and what this man over here, Mr. White, our coach, has brought to not just, our program, but to our community. We all feel grateful and the whole community’s just embracing it.
Something that caught my attention during the interview is that all these grown men still call Jim White Mr. White. He is still their mentor. Mr. White also weighed in on this question:
I see a definite change. We have changed our city logo. We are no longer the Heartbeat of Agriculture. Now we are a runner running through the field, a figure — silhouette of a runner and underneath — a high school girl came up with this logo — Tradition, Unity, and Excellence. So, that’s a big change.
In the movie, they run a lot of hills. This is a movie about cross country. We asked about the hills, since a couple of the bloggers are runners. Damacio Diaz quickly answered that
They’re a lot worse.
David then chimed in:
It doesn’t do it justice.
Going back to the heart of the movie, we asked what their first reaction was when they found out that not only was their story going to be a movie but specifically this movie and knowing what these true life, inspirational movies become. Mr. White told us:
From my aspect, 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. When actually Disney did it, we were thrilled that Disney had it, because then we knew that it shouldn’t have any sex, cussing, and cigarettes. We were very happy that it was going to take place. In reality, too, the script that was written, we prayed that it would never happen. It didn’t, because they threw it out. Disney resigned us and got a better script writer.
David then interjected laughing:
Just to go back and let you know how my mother was depicted in previous scripts was probably a more accurate version but this is was a family movie, so it is okay.
We then asked how much input did they have on the filming and the making the movie. Damacio told us:
Mr. White might have more than us. We basically told our story, got interviewed for hours and hour and hours, and that was pretty much it. Mr. White had a lot more influence.
Danny then told us:
Once you give them your story, obviously you sign with them. Then they can do whatever they want. So, with myself, they made me chubby in the movie. I’m trying to be nice here, but they made me chubby or overweight and slow. That’s okay. That’s what they wanted to do, and I’m just excited to be included in the movie. They could’ve chosen any other team, because we have nine state titles. The fact is that they went back to the original first year that we won state. Some of these teams that came after us were way better than us — way better than me as far as the running. We were just happy that Disney stuck with that first year and we’re lucky to be in the movie.
At the end of the movie, it will tell you where they all are now. We made the observation that a lot of them became teachers. We asked if Coach White encouraged them. David told us:
He was a very inspirational part. We are a God-fearing folks, so we were, we were teaching in Sunday school. We were part of the Royal Rangers and we did that on Tuesday nights at our local church. Mr. White was there as a person that we can rely on. Believe it or not, before he was a coach, he’s a scientist. He was a fifth grade teacher and before he was a P.E. teacher. He’s a very knowledgeable guy — you pick up any type of bug or any type of leaf, he knows what it is. We try to trip him up on that, and he’s very, very, mart in that regard. He’s a pretty good coach, too. As far as wanting to be a teacher, he wasn’t the only reason why we got into the education, but he was one of the two or three maybe. My parents definitely pushed us to go to that route. The wide road most people go to is other than college. Now college is very encouraged, but back in the day it wasn’t. A fifth of the folks in high school ended up, especially folks of our color and our culture, maybe started school, but hardly any of us finished. It was a big, big deal for us.
Mr. White also commented:
Let me add one thing to that. Mr. Diaz, their dad, he pushed education real hard, too. He felt like — and this is what he told me — I want them to get their education, so I will go back and get my education, and he did. He went back and got it.
Sports in high school can make or break a young man. We asked how did that impact their lives during high school to move on in the future. Damacio answered:
We were already tough kids and we were used to working hard. They’re seven of us in our family. We’re all a year apart. David’s the oldest, and he was a bully. He would beat us up all the time. [LAUGHS]
He 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 he’s the first one, and so he learned it before us. It taught you discipline. It gave you character. It taught you how to accept losing or winning. It became something that was going to help us get out of our environment, and it did. All of us went to college. A lot of us competed in college. Sports is what kind of helped us get out of that.
In the movie, Mr. White picked with the boys in the field. We asked if that really happened and if he did it again.
I’ve done it quite often. I didn’t enjoy it very much. In the movie, we didn’t do cabbage. We didn’t have that close to us. That was the only thing really that they had available to show that type of work. It’s grapes and it’s oranges and it’s almonds and it’s cotton and that kind of stuff in our area, but those weren’t available but, yes, I did that.
We talked about how it takes a village to raise a child. It is something you see in the McFarland USA movie, so we asked that still happening in McFarland. Danny told us:
Absolutely. It does take a village to raise a child. In our case, there’s seven and my dad worked a lot of hours. My dad worked ten, twelve, thirteen, fourteen hours a day sometimes, and both of them come from large families. My dad has 13 brothers and sisters. My mom has 12. We have a lot of uncles, and everybody has a lot of kids. I have seven kids myself. All of us have a lot of kids. If it’s not for the help of ourcousins and our uncles and our friends and church, it’s really difficult during these times yo raise a child and then to keep him on the narrow road is tough. I’m always looking out for their kids. They’re looking out for my kids and we’re trying to police each other, because it’s very easy to get distracted and go way off course.
Same thing happened back in, in the day when we were kids. Our father never could ever go watch us race. We were racing big races and, and trying to accomplish big things, so we looked at Mr. White as our dad. He literally would buy us shoes, feed us, um, counsel us, console us when we lost, or that kinda stuff. We have a great dad. We love our dad. He is amazing. But Mr. White was our second father. He did a lot of things for us that our dad couldn’t, because it financially just wasn’t available.
It was amazing talking to these guys! They were so cool and really you could relate to them. It was great to see that not only did they make something of themselves, but that they went back to McFarland to show that people do come back after they make something of themselves. It was nice to see that this really did a happen to a group of really great people. It gives us all hope.
Is there something else you would have asked? Do you plan on seeing McFarland USA?