Undoubtedly, there’s a great and important film waiting to be made about the Flint water crisis. Unfortunately, the new Lifetime film Flint is not it.
As I watched Flint last night, it occurred to me that it’s been a while since the Flint water crisis made the national news. For a few weeks in 2016, it was all anyone was talking about but then the governor of Michigan announced that he wouldn’t be running for President and the media promptly deserted Flint. I think most people in the country assumed that Flint now magically had clean water. In reality, Flint hasn’t had reliably clean water since 2014. Earlier this year, it was announced that Flint’s water quality has returned to acceptable levels but residents were still advised not to use it until all of Flint’s water pipes had been replaced. When one looks at the coverage that the crisis has received, one gets the feeling that the media stopped caring once it became apparent there wasn’t going to be an easy and quick solution.
That’s the thing with this crisis. There is no easy way to resolve it and it’s not a happy story. Even when all of the pipes are finally replaced (which will be 2020 at the earliest), it’s not going to be a happy ending as much as it’s just going to be an ending. The citizens of a city were poisoned because a bunch of civil servants wanted to save money. There’s no way to spin that into a positive. Even if the people of Flint are no longer drinking contaminated water, that doesn’t change the fact that they once did and no one in power seemed to care until they had no choice but to pretend to be outraged.
Flint is a well-meaning film but it’s immediately handicapped by the fact that it’s a Lifetime film and, therefore, has to take a Lifetime approach to the material. which means that things have to end positively. The film does a good job of showing brown water running out of taps and detailing why clean water is a necessity. And the film also deserves some credit for including a note informing us that the pipes in Flint are still in the process of being replaced and that the citizens are still being told either use filters or bottled water. But, too often, the film turns what should have been a modern-day horror story into a simplistic story of “you go girl!” activism. When the film should be angry, it’s merely annoyed. When the film should be furious about the present, it’s too busy being optimistic about the future. Instead of really exploring what led to the crisis in the first place, the focus of the film is on city council meetings and the cartoonishly slick mayor getting voted out of office. “Yay!” the movie seems to proclaim, “Sucks about the poisoned water but at least everyone got to bond and now we have proof that democracy works and the government really does care!”
(There’s even two scenes where a city councilman tells the activists to keep fighting, the movie’s way of saying, “See! Not all politicians are bad!”)
Oh well. I don’t want to be too critical because, while the movie may have been strictly by-the-numbers, it at least tried to remind people about what’s going on in Flint. That’s certainly more than the national media’s doing these days.