‘McFarland, USA’: Racing for Equal Media Representation

Last June, Columbia University’s Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race; the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts; and the National Association of Latino Independent Producers commissioned a 44-page report detailing the discrepancy between Latinos and their representation in the media. 

Bottom line: it’s very disproportionate.

Hispanics make up 17 percent of the U.S. population — averaging about 54 million people, according to the latest U.S. Census Bureau data. By 2060, the Bureau estimates that the number of Hispanics will more than double to 128.8 million people. Hispanics will make up 31 precent of the U.S. population.

Graphic Design by Stephen Chou

Unfortunately, “The Latino Media Gap: A Report on the State of Latinos in U.S. Media’s” researchers (Frances Negrón-Muntaner, Chelsea Abbas, Luis Figueroa, and Samuel Robson) found that the Latino population continues to be marginalized in the media — playing maids, criminals, drug dealers, law enforcement, or blue-collar workers. Even more disturbing: Latinos are getting less and less screen time, but making up more and more of the consumer population — even accounting for a quarter of movie ticket sales.

Designed by Stephen ChouCompared to the 1940s when Latinos made up about 2 percent of the population and appeared in about 2 percent of leadings roles (in the top 10 highest grossing films, at least), today’s Latino population only appear in 1.4 percent of leading roles.

This is why “McFarland, USA” is so thrilling: because Disney’s answering our plea for more Latino representation in the media.

Directed by Niki Caro and written by Christopher Cleveland, Bettina Gilois and Grant Thompson, the story of “McFarland, USA” isn’t new.

We’ve seen the tried-and-true storyline of sports giving impoverished kids a chance for a better future in films such as “When the Game Stands Tall” (2014) and “Remember the Titians” (2000). However, the faces we see are mostly black and white. The faces of “McFarland, USA” are brown — colored by hours standing under the hot, California sun — picking produce and dreaming the American Dream.

Although that dream of social mobility is universal (America was built by immigrants, after all), Coach Jim White (Kevin Costner) and his family are the lens in which most of “white America” can relate. The Whites are implants — moving to the poor, mostly Hispanic town of McFarland, Calif. Here, the residents speak fluent Spanish and drive in gangs of old cars. The restaurants serve tacos rather than burgers. And roosters are the wake-up call. It seems like a foreign country.

But Coach White and his family move to one of the poorest towns in America because they’ve run out of second chances. White was fired from his last position — coaching a spoiled and losing high school football team in Boise, Idaho. The only reason White got his new position as McFarland High School‘s P.E. teacher is because the school’s under-staffed, under-funded and falling off the grid. The students are also invisible — the children to migrant workers.

Caro directs an inspiring film, based on a true story. White was McFarland’s cross country coach during seven state championships, ranging from 1987 to 1999. His runners were among the first of their families to attend college. And Disney dares us to dream big.

Perhaps someday, there will be equal Latino representation in the media. For now, we can keep dreaming.

“McFarland, USA” was directed by Niki Caro and written by Christopher Cleveland, Bettina Gilois and Grant Thompson. For more movie reviews, visit Liu’s blog: https://passthepopcornreviews.wordpress.com.

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