By Dwight Hobbes
Flint (Storyline Entertainment/Sony), a modest, nonetheless fine, film, dramatizes the tragic scandal of politicians unwittingly poisoning a populace’s water then deliberately dodging the consequence, mainly in order to save money.
The fact-based script by Barbara Stepansky is adapted from the Time magazine article on the water crisis by Josh Sanburn, of course, national headline after headline long decrying the situation. Beyond that, this story is well told.
Bruce Beresford deftly directed a skilled cast starring Betsy Brandt, featuring Jill Scott, Queen Latifah and Lyndie Greenwood, in convincing depictions of people who lived through the water crisis, coming out worse for the wear but, in the end, winning.
In 2014, sink taps started to stink, showers sprayed something close to sewage, and nausea, skin rashes, and worse ailments ensued — including one woman falling out in a seizure — causing folks to wonder what was threatening families in Flint, Mi. An epidemic of health problems surfaced, caused by drinking, cooking with and bathing in carcinogens.
When residents found out the cause, distress evolved into outrage, and protests grew into an all-out revolt. When they get to the bottom of things, it’s revealed that the city worked a deal, switching its water supplier from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department to the Karegnondi Water Authority.
The powers that be hadn’t intended to make residents sick, though had they done their homework that outcome would’ve been clear. Worsening matters, concerned residents were stonewalled, as city council members passed the buck around like a hot potato. Until, at length, the suits are backed into a corner and, except for a few, their hides are nailed to the wall.
An interesting note: While males in key positions cut through red tape and belie double-talk to facilitate a solution, housewives and singles moms, ferocious as cub-threatened lionesses, raised pure, persevering hell that ultimately forced change.
Beresford understates the action to let this story speak for itself. There are no shrieking histrionics, no high-noon showdowns in officially hallowed halls. This is just a simple saga of truth brought to power, as commoners prevail in a long, hard fight against the entrenched establishment.
Brandt gives LeeAnne Walters, who in real life led a citizens’ movement that exposed the water crisis, an anguished, frightened fighting-for-her-household, unassailable gravity. She was never quite sure how to proceed, nonetheless determined to see justice done or damned well know why not.
Scott, as Flint Democracy Defense League activist Nayyirah Shariff, is humorously personable, but has a hard nose when it comes to being jerked around by politics-as-usual. Latifah, co-executive producing, portrays the fictional Iza Banks, representing an amalgamation of many women and residents who became activists during the water crisis.
Rounding out the characters are Miguel Del Toral (Juan Carlos Velis), Environmental Protection Agency regulations manager, who gets removed from the case for being too conscientious at his job of inspecting threats to public health; Virginia Tech professor and water engineer Marc Edwards (Rob Morrow); and Curt Guyette of the American Civil Liberties Union (Harry Judge).
In a keystroke, Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha (Sonia Dhillon Tully) learned the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality had hung itself when, in the process of trying to discredit protesters, they released Center for Disease Control and Prevention data verifying negligence to public well-being — the smoking gun.
The film does admirable justice to the extraordinary courage of ordinary citizens, working class, and poor folk fighting city hall in a small town. It also documents that even though residents prevailed and were able to reconnect to Detroit’s safe water supply, by the time those responsible ran out of protocol to hide behind, the damage done was grave.
The movie also notes that this is far from an anomaly and thousands of U.S. water systems across the country endanger millions of unsuspecting American.
The bureaucrats escaped consequence except for public disgrace. MDEQ officials faced involuntary manslaughter charges due to the spread of Legionnaires’ disease, and Emergency Manager Jerry Ambrose was among those charged with misconduct in office, but no one was put in prison.
Ultimately, Flint is well-crafted food for thought with Latifah winning an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actress in a Television Movie, Limited Series or Dramatic Special, and Scott receiving a nomination.
This article originally appeared in the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.