Flintown Kids
Treasure Entertainment
Review by Emily Hendren

Four hundred unsolved murders in eight years. Listed as The Worst Place to Live in America by Money Magazine. In a town where the murder rate is the highest in the nation per capita, Flintown Kids offers insight into the world that basketball provides a town clouded by drugs and fleeting opportunities. It earned the award for best docu-drama when it screened at the New York Film Festival.

The documentary opens with interviews with Flint locals, young basketball players who trace their own journeys of coming of age and those of their basketball idols. The interviewees first talk about Mateen Cleaves, and they say his name with reverence. They talk about his drive to rise above, his will to win, to make something of himself. Their words and their eyes say he wanted to use basketball to escape the streets of Flint, an escape they do not say outright that they want for themselves, but the desire is there between their words. They go on to discuss Morris Peterson, a Flintown kid who used to have “the knock of being soft” and not a great high school player, but who played well in college. The young basketball players talk of Peterson as a go-getter, someone who found himself in college and realized he could take his opportunity and turn it into something more. Peterson’s career with the Toronto Raptors, the New Orleans Hornets, and the Oklahoma City Thunder proves that he did.

The greatest adversary to successful, healthful living in Flint is drugs. With liquor stores across the street from public schools and gangs running the streets, most children fall prey to the drug scene at an alarmingly young age. One boy smokes a cigarette while he gives his interview. He is eleven years old and admits that the first time he smoked marijuana he was eight years old. He is nonchalant, as if his shrugging shoulders ask the question “what other way is there?” Chris Grier, the Michigan Hurricanes Coach explains that “kids always wanna [sic] pretend…cops and robbers…cowboys and Indians…what do they have here in Flint to pretend? Basketball. That’s it. Or—drug dealing on the corner.” Basketball is the out, the hope for a life away from drugs, away from a poverty the kids of Flint did not choose, but were born into. 

One of the town’s greatest sources of its stomach-churning poverty has come in the way of job lay-offs at a well-known American auto company: General Motors (GM). Of a population of 100 thousand, 60 thousand Flint natives were hired, and later fired from General Motors when the company relocated. Paula McGee, former pro basketball player, describes General Motors like an old married husband: he left for an alluring mistress, and forgot about the mess he left behind at home.

In light of the unbearable job market and lack of inspiration, one interviewee states: “Who else is there for me to look up to? The only people coming out of my neighborhood is [sic] NBA players.”And so they turn their sights up and away to the professionals who have paved the way before them. The stories of Kelvin Tolbert at Michigan State; Chucky Atkins who has played for the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Detroit Pistons, and others; and Jason Richardson of the Orlando Magic provide role models that breathe life into the street courts of Flint. Basketball is a means to a life away from drugs and gang violence that might otherwise be unavoidable. It’s a chance at higher education and professional excellence. It’s a game, a lifestyle, a dream.

© Emily Hendren, 2011