Netflix does justice to Flint: “Flint Town” gives us a complex and artfully executed behind-the-scenes glance at the Flint Police Department.

By Mackenzie Murphy, Editor-in-Chief 
Photo courtesy of Flickr

“Flint Town” documents the understaffed and under-funded Flint Police Department during a critical juncture in the department’s existence. “Flint Town” is binge worthy, but it’s so full of detail, intrigue and heartbreak that even two episodes at a time was almost too much. Still, I finished the entire series within the span of a weekend, and a week later I rewatched the series.

“Flint Town’s” eight episodes cover a nearly two-year period in which Flint’s mayoral election, the appointment of Flint’s new police chief, the presidential general election, the water crisis and an important millage all occur. It follows the general evolution of the police force while examining the individual story lines of its officers.

“Flint Town” is so well done it almost seems staged. No one looks in the camera while they’re filming. Everyone is well- spoken. The filmmakers give equal air time to all dimensions of an issue, whether it’s the force’s lack of funding or 911 call wait times. But when it’s time to crack the hammer down on definitive facts– like the lack of sympathy for black officers by white officers in the department, or the 911 waitimes–  they do so with full force and without apology. All the while, the scope of who they interview is impressive: journalists, citizens, police from all ranks and divisions, officers’ significant others, various politicians– you name them, and they asked asked them.

“Flint Town” is innovative in that it is a welcome divergence from the “Cops”-esque portrayal of crime. On one hand, “Flint Town” is far more empathetic than “Cops” ever could be. In “Flint Town,” bad guys are more than bad guys– they are citizens who are disproportionately affected by the systematic racism and poverty that blankets their town. On the other hand, “Flint Town” is far more gruesome than “Cops” ever could be: in the first scene of the series, you watch someone die in their driveway from a gunshot wound; in one of the last scenes, you watch a police squad storm a house and shoot and kill a pair of dogs in the residence. Overall, the scope that “Flint Town” lends to Flint is holistic and fair– it is always sure to contextualize Flint in a bigger picture. It is an honest look at the issues that converge to create the circumstance of Flint.

Most of “Flint Town’s” story-telling strength comes from its use of juxtaposition. In one scene, one officer conveys his fear of anti-police violence, citing incidents in Dallas and Boston. His tone edges towards paranoia.  In the next scene, the same officer is shown interacting with a group of loiters, who are yelling at each other and at the officer, while the officer remains stone-cold calm and eventually deescalates the scene.

My criticisms of “Flint Town” are probably petty when compared to the finesse with which it handles the other aspects of its film making,. B but here they are anyway.  Its title is distasteful. Flint isn’t a town by any means, and adding that word seems like a tone-deaf attempt to connect the series with other crime and police motifs. Some clips in the series are recycled and reused– albeit in applicable contexts, but doing so makes you question the integrity of the truthfulness of the storytelling. Lastly, the mayor and police chief of Flint maintain that the documentary fails to portray Flint’s progress, but you could argue that this isn’t what “Flint Town” is about.

If I had a part in making this series, I would be extremely proud of it. It is cinematically beautiful and journalistically honest. If I was from Flint, I would be relieved that someone finally got it right.

About the Writer…

Mackenzie Murphy
is a senior at Aquinas College where she is the  Editor-in-Chief for The Saint. She is also a freelance writer and high school debate coach. In her spare time, Mackenzie enjoys reading and geeking out over David Foster Wallace. Follow her on Twitter at @MurphyKenzio

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