see: the low riders, the stray dogs, the signs written in Spanish, the old
women tending to chickens in their yards. As the images pass by, the
while Mexican music playing in the background further emphasizes
their alienation. His older daughter even says, “Dad, please tell me we
took the wrong exit,” and his younger daughter asks, “Are we in
Mexico?” In addition, when they go to a restaurant that night, White is
confused about why burgers aren’t on the menu, and he rolls his eyes
when the waitress stresses they only serve “weird” food like tacos,
burritos, and quesadillas. Furthermore, the beginning of the film
purposefully juxtaposes the White family and their new, prominently
Latino neighborhood to set the stage for a traditional, white savior
movie. Even though the film’s director said in an interview, “[we] were
very conscious of not making a white savior movie,” the decision to
cast the iconic Kevin Costner in the lead role of the white coach makes
it all but inevitable that this movie would fall into the white savior
framework (Moreno). The unfortunate reality, as Ahiza Garcia, notes is
that “people of all races are naturally better able to identify same race
faces and from infancy, repeated exposure to same-faces lead to
increased familiarity and a visual preference or faces that look like our
own . . . [and in a country that is] still 64 percent white . . . there is no
guarantee that white Americans would actually go watch [a movie full
of minorities]” (Garcia).
Nevertheless, while McFarland, USA might be able to be
classified as a white savior film by its initial discord between the white
coach and his minority team; Jim White does not fulfill his savior
responsibilities in the end. In fact, the character defies most of the
conventions of the genre, and it is the team that ultimately redeems him
not the other way around. White’s lack of experience in coaching cross-
country is crucial to understanding how the minority community saves
him. While Jim organizes the students into a team, he does not know
the first thing about coaching cross-country, and “it’s only because the
kids are already disciplined and talented that they find the success they
do. Arguably, most of the help the kids receive is from their own
families and community, not the supposed “White Savior” in their
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