Cher is starring in a movie about Flint because white people always find a way to center themselves
Flint is a black city. Hollywood perhaps didn’t get the memo because Lifetime is slated to move forward on a movie about the Flint water crisis starring Cher. Flint will center on how her character’s family has been affected by the contamination of Flint’s water.
The hard-hitting fact-based drama examines the events that led to the “toxic crime” committed against the residents of Flint. It is looking to shed light not only on the politics and poor management that led to the poisoning of the water, but also the human element of the residents who not only suffered but whose voices were ignored.
White people have managed to not only tell a story that isn’t theirs to tell (for the billionth time), but also has the gall to center a white woman in a story where the people most impacted are black and poor.
So we’re clear: 57% of Flint’s residents are black, 37% are white and 6% are other. The government’s neglect, failure to find a effective solution and refusal to hold elected officials accountable for exposing residents to poisonous water for over two years is because it’s a poor black city. I don’t think if this happened in let’s say Calabasas the response would be the same. Yet a team of white folks pulled their resources together to create Flint, you know, to help shed light and all. Not one person thought maybe it isn’t such a good idea for a white woman to be lead.
The writer of the project, Barbara Stepanksy, is white. The executive producers — Cher, Craig Zadan, Neil Meron and Katie Couric — are all white. Oscar nominated director Bruce Beresford? White too. This happens because white people cannot help themselves from co-opting people of color’s stories. It’s like a lightbulb goes off in their heads. “A story about black grief, black pain, black trauma, black poverty will be epic. Let’s center white people though.”
Although Sony TV is the studio for the project, it hasn’t been officially greenlit. However, it has been fast-tracked and is slated to begin production this spring. Ideally the project would come to a screeching halt because everyone involved would realize this isn’t their story to tell. But this is Hollywood. Appropriating and co-opting the stories of people of color makes the elite creatives and executives go full throttle ahead.
Executive producers Zadan and Meron were inspired to tell this story after reading Time’s February 1, 2016, cover story “The Toxic Tap” by Josh Sanburn. After Cher heard about Flint she reportedly reached out to producers to express her interest. A role was then written specifically for her.
Cher is passionate about the Flint water crisis. She’s been vocal on social media and donated hundreds of thousands of water to the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan. That’s a wonderful good deed. And while I typically don’t have a problem with Cher, that’s where her participation should’ve ended. If she insisted on being in the film she could’ve played a minor role and used her influence to demand that black people were centered.
There are plenty of roles for white people to play in a film about Flint — the governor, elected officials responsible. Sure, white families have been affected by the Flint water crisis too. But facts are facts. When the water is contaminated in a majority black city, basic mathematics tell us that majority black people are affected. It’s not that a white family can’t have a role in Flint (although whites are so overrepresented in film and media so it’s not really necessary), it’s that this is a black story that should be told by black filmmakers starring black people.
Why is this so hard for Hollywood to grasp?
Everyone involved in this project should really be ashamed of themselves. There is no excuse in 2017 to not understand when you, as a privileged person, are taking up space. As an ally Cher should’ve recognized this and used her privilege to make sure black people had a seat at the table. If this project moves forward I hope it fails so epically that Hollywood will be forced to change its ways of co-opting stories of the marginalized. It’s tired, it’s wack and it’s offensive.