In a time where it seems Netflix is pumping out new original series as fast as gas prices fluctuate, one must ask themselves, “How can I possibly keep up with all these new shows?” The simple answer is you can’t. In the month of March alone Netflix produced a combination of 45 different original TV shows, movies, documentaries, and cartoons. So it is no wonder that on occasion you miss out on a great TV show produced by Netflix.
Well, history will not repeat itself, because the next show you want to binge will be Flint Town. Released on March 2nd, Flint Town is a docu-series that follows the lives of police officers from Flint, Michigan for an entire year. To understand the heart of Flint Town is to understand the tragic history of this once-affluent community.
Starting in the early decades of the 20th century, Flint, and most of the surrounding areas of Detroit, grew exponentially into a wealthy community, mainly through the auto industry. However, the richness of life came to a sudden halt due to many factors; such as the downsizing of the auto companies, labor being outsourced to other countries, and an international oil crisis. General Motors, one of the main car manufacturers that provided the economic stability in Flint, greatly downsized its workforce in the area from a 1978 high of 80,000 workers to under 8,000 by 2010. The colossal devastation of the auto companies leaving the Flint community was too much to bear for many of the residents, which led to “white flight” from the area. The city went from a population of just over 200,000 in the mid-1970s to a population of 97,000 now with many of the residents living below the poverty line. By 2002, the city of Flint accumulated $30 million in debt, and in 2010 the employment reached 13.7%.
In April 2014, the Flint community experienced another hardship when its water supply was found to have lead in it, causing a state of emergency. In an attempt to save $5 million over two years, Flint officials decided to switch its water supply from Lake Huron (via Detroit) to the Flint River. Due to insufficient water treatment, over 100,000 residents – including 6,000-12,000 children – have been exposed to dangerously high levels of lead. To make matters worse, the local government waited months to tell the general public that the water they were drinking was contaminated. This debacle has lead to ongoing lawsuits, multiple investigations, four political resignations, four firings, five suspensions and fifteen criminal indictments. To date, Flint still does not have safe drinking water.
So this is the landscape which these officers are facing: poverty, crime, and an unprecedented water crisis. Unlike shows like Cops or World’s Wildest Police Videos where the show glamorizes the on-foot chase downs, the arrests of a fugitive, and high-speed chases, Flint Town offers a different narrative – reality. The reality for many of these officers is this – they work and serve in one of the poorest, most violent, and lowest resourced cities in all of America.
One of the most appealing aspects of Flint Town is the raw, unfiltered commentary that the police officers and community members offer in interviews. Whether it is the officers admitting to emotionally barely hanging on by a thread and seeking a way out of patrolling Flint, to the neighborhood members openly confessing their mistrust and dislike of the Flint Police, Flint Town offers a gritty truth to the audience.
The season starts with the end of 2015, entering 2016 where the Flint Police Department is suffering from a loss of finances and resources as the department is now at 98 officers compared to 300 a few years earlier. As any American can contest, the 2016 year was one of the most polarizing, chaotic and shifting times in recent years in American history. 2016 included a circus of a presidential race, the cost of living rising, and multiple police shootings of unarmed African American citizens. The show goes into detail about all these subjects as the Flint Police Department faces and tries to overcome their own limitations in the forms of shortages of officers, finances, and resources.
Flint Town is remarkable in how beautiful the cinematography is. Some of the most gripping images of the series is the slow-motion aerial shots depicting a patrol car, with its siren bulbs bursting into the snowy terrain, which presents such an oddly graceful image compared to the urban decay of the city. Through the intentional directing decisions, it is clear that co-directors Zackary Canepari, Drea Cooper and Jessica Dimmock are hoping to urge the viewers to embrace this community’s challenges as if you were one of the Flint citizens.
Throughout the season one thing is clear, no matter how different each citizen is in Flint, be it political allegiance, economic structure, race, education, generation or whatever means of other identification you want to put out there, this community is in pain. The pain that is caused from having wealth, prosperity and influence, to now murder, poverty and unsafe water to drink from. Pain that no matter how hard the police department strives for peace, justice and protecting the community, it seems systematical obstacles are constantly preventing their aim of restoration. Pain from citizens who frustrated and fed up for waiting for a police officer to respond to a 911 call they made an hour and a half ago when they were being shot at or robbed.
This pain is felt by the viewer who experiences the same emotions, viewpoints, and pain as any Flint police officer or resident. Among many, the greatest strength that Flint Town offers is its lack of bias in its storytelling. Unlike many documentaries where the film or product is intended to sway the audience toward a particular mindset or view, Flint Town does the opposite; the series simply focuses on portraying the stories of this once-flourishing city in America. The story tells itself.