Did you know, even though the water crisis came to the nation’s attention in 2014, Flint residents have yet to see justice? It’s 2020. What’s the hold-up? Flint: The Poisoning of an American City, a documentary written and directed by David Barnhart, shines a much-needed light on the city and gives residents the voice they deserve. Many Flint residents, even though it is more than five years since the water crisis made national news headlines, are still without access to much needed safe water.
If you think Flint is somehow an anomaly, given the information highlighted in this documentary, you’d be sadly mistaken. Numerous cities across these United States have been found to have unacceptably contaminated drinking water. The government is willing to stand ideally by and do nothing as the crisis persists. Barnhart brilliantly addresses the crisis from a new perspective.
In Flint: The Poisoning of an American City, we see a city reduced to despair. As the documentary unfolds, you will see how the writer/director makes connections between the environmental disaster, labour history, and the voiceless and once-thriving city.
Five years in the making, the Barnhart directed documentary shows a vibrant hopeful post-Second World War city full of life and vigour. General Motors had brought the city more than a modicum of promise. Consequently, because of this promise, the city exuded optimism. The possibility of a brand-new bright tomorrow was within reach.
The documentary, with no sign of that metaphorical sunshine that lit Flint so brightly, ends in present-day with Flint residents suffering from problems which exceed unsafe drinking water.
As the production progresses, interlaced with interviews of current Flint residents, Barnhart provides us with significant scientific data. Whilst these United States is arguably the wealthiest country the world has ever seen, many people want to know how it is such a water crisis could occur in an American city. How did the water crisis occur? Throughout the documentary, addressing pertinent questions as the film progresses, it becomes clear that there is a dichotomy between facts and belief. Greed, neglect, and racism permeate American society like a virus.
The water crisis is frequently associated with former Republican Governor Rick Snyder. Snyder, in an apparent effort to be fiscally responsible, aimed to save the government money. If the governor had wanted to save the government money, not that that was his actual goal, we wouldn’t have seen such huge tax breaks handed to the rich.
The rich received tax breaks and the working and middle classes picked up the bill. One of the cost-cutting measures, greatly impacting a predominantly working-class area, was the switching of the water supply to a river that lacked adequate corrosion control treatment. Whilst many people might point to this as being the beginning of the story, that’s not the case. The beginning of this tragic story begins to unfold elsewhere in the city’s history.
Flint: The Poisoning of an American City, in no uncertain terms, paints a vivid portrait of the crisis. With archival footage dating back to the post-Second World War era, we experience an unvarnished history lesson without distorting effect of tinting or rose-coloured glasses. This is a story of unemployment, sickness, and immense poverty.
During the earlier twentieth century, with automobile manufacturers such as Buick Motor Company and General Motors pitching the proverbial tents in the city’s backyard, Flint’s future looked bright. It would not be an exaggeration to state that the automobile industry dominates the city’s historical footprint.
The mid-1930s, 1936–37, saw great change sweep across the UAW (United Automobile Workers). This was in no small part due to the Flint workers sit-down strike against General Motors. The strike was the catalyst for the UAW transitioning from a collection of isolated locals into a powerful labour union. Consequently, because of this shift, the domestic automobile industry is rapid unionisation.
Flint workers depended on the automobile industry. Because of its perceived stability, there was apparent financial security. The city’s populace was comprised of population racially diverse. Subsequently, because of how diverse the population was, Flint saw racially integrated workforces. The automobile boom, as we see in the documentary, didn’t come without significant costs to the environment.
Even though people might view this with scepticism, although various news reports had indicated Snyder’s administration as a starting point, earlier historical evidence must be accounted for.
When trying to paint a clear picture of events, especially with something as important as the Flint water crisis, context is everything. We see the heartbreak in people’s eyes. There is nothing like a well-made documentary to educate people to the truth. Barnhart does precisely that.