El Centro Chicano partnered with Disney Studios to host a private screening of McFarland, USA and a Q&A with director Niki Caro on Friday night for the USC community two weeks before the film’s opening.
USC Trustee Monica Lozano and her husband David Ayon connected El Centro to Disney Studios for the screening at Regal Cinemas LA Live. The predominantly Latino audience of about 300 consisted mostly of USC students, but also included alumni, staff and faculty associated with El Centro.
The film features Kevin Costner as an out-of-place white football coach who forms a cross-country team of Mexican-American students in the poor town of McFarland, California.
William Vela, the director of El Centro Chicano, USC’s on-campus cultural center for Latino students, announced during the Q&A that the movie was an important step toward mainstream appreciation of Latinos’ diverse experiences.
“This is an opportunity for Hollywood and other groups to take it to the next level because our community deserves to be heard and deserves to be on the screen,” he said before introducing Caro and supporting actors Carlos Pratts and Ramiro Rodriguez, who play cross-country runners Thomas Valles and Danny Diaz.
Caro also spoke about the power of Latinos as consumers.
“The Latin audience is the single biggest audience in this country. You bring in so many billions of dollars in the entertainment world, and you have power,” Caro said. “If this film is commercially successful there will be 10 more like it next year.”
Several USC students who grew up in and around McFarland expressed their surprise at seeing their own struggles represented.
“It really hit home,” a student from Farmersville said to Caro. “A lot of people lose hope … they feel that a lot of people don’t believe in them. I grew up since I was little, picking olives — that’s the lifestyle. I also did cross country. And all these little towns really get forgotten. People that leave to go to college, they never go back.”
Rodriguez was from McFarland and grew up in conditions similar to that of his character in the film. He attended McFarland High School and was acquainted with the real-life person he portrayed, Danny Diaz.
When asked about the film’s connection to American immigration issues, Caro spoke at length about the contributions Latinos make to the United States as a part of the economy and from a cultural standpoint.
“I can’t understand why the conversation exists in the first place,” Caro said. “Mexicans are the backbone of this state. If you leave we’re all in trouble. I hope the whole immigration issue doesn’t get to your spirits too much. I’ve come to realize what we’ve made is a profoundly American film with all the values that the Latino cultures hold so dear,” Caro said. “Faith, family, community, hard work. Those are core American values and you’re keeping those alive.”
Braulio Hoyos, special projects assistant for El Centro, explained that there should be a stronger Latino presence on campus.
“USC is supposed to be 14 percent Latino students,” Hoyos said. “However, when you walk around campus you usually don’t see that, it doesn’t feel like it. I think everyone at USC should watch this film because it portrays a lot of the Latino culture. I think the USC community doesn’t really know and understand what the Mexican community is about.”
Darline Robles, a professor at the Rossier School of Education, discussed how positive Latino stories are often lost on the university.
“You don’t often see positive stories about the Latino community, and the USC community sits right in the middle of the Latino community.”
Vela first became interested in a community-wide screening of McFarland after he and a few students watched it at Disney Studios last November.
“We were just blown away by it and really wanted to show it at ’SC,” he said. “[This film] is for our community but it’s also for the greater world. It’s for other communities to better understand our community and better see our community through our eyes.”
[Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated Monica Lozano’s husband is David Ayol. His name is David Ayon. The Daily Trojan regrets the error.]