By Will Tran
A copy of Marcus G. Davenport’s Flint Star DVD has been on my computer desk for some time. A documentary depicting the life of individuals attempting to leave the ghetto through basketball, I already had a few preconceived notions about the film. I have never lived in what people would deem a “rough” neighborhood rife with crime, guns, and drugs, so it might be an alarming yet insightful experience to be an outside observer. However, in my opinion, the subject matter appears to be overdone. Eminem’s 8 Mile chronicled the life of a rapper who wanted to “get a record,” leave his decrepit slum of a hometown, and live the rich life. Even the less glorified, less Hollywood, and more street Through the Fire detailed the life of numerous athletes, mainly Sebastian Telfair, from their time in the streets to the NBA…if they got that far. Yes, most hit the wall as one man interviewed in Through the Fire states, “There comes a time when you realize that you won’t get paid for this [playing basketball].”
I do not have issues with people wanting to be professional athletes or any other type of famous icon; however, I have issue with those that feel that there is no other way to be successful. The Flint residents are blinded. They see basketball as the only key to success and place absolutely no value on education which to them is merely an obstacle. Mateen Cleaves, one of the successful Flint athletes, mentions how he went to school just to make whatever grade needed to keep him eligible to play basketball.
Attack me for not understanding the Flint culture, but the following explains why I think Flint has more options than playing ball:
The documentary begins with an assortment of individuals justifying their way of life. Numerous testimonials ensue, and two things stick out: the repetition of basketball which is heard at least one hundred times and the phrase, “There’s nothing else to do but ball.” Of the former, it is apparent that basketball is prevalent within the culture; I have no problem with that. However, of the latter, if there is clearly nothing else to do but play basketball then go get a job or more importantly, go to school.
Davenport profiles the Flint residents as robots willingly programmed to play sports without any coding for education or other forms of leisure. I understand that Davenport is trying to depict a culture heavily influenced by basketball, but everyone is brainwashed into thinking only basketball will allow people to rise up out of the ghetto. That is not right because I highly doubt that everyone believes they can play in the NBA whether or not they are physically gifted. In addition, approximately twenty professional Flint basketball athletes are represented in the documentary while the Flint residents greatly outnumber that. Surely, there are people who have failed. Finally, dispersed throughout the film are a number of individuals who speak of “those” who have not left Flint. The most notable of which is the individual who constantly repeats the phrase, “Reality hits, and they’re doing drugs.” Who interviewed the drugees? Not Marcus G. Davenport obviously.
Without interviews of those who have tried and failed, the documentary leaves out the other side of the issue. This “plot hole” is evident as a bulk of the documentary glorifies the successful athletes like Latrell Sprewell and Mateen Cleaves. The mere mention of these names sends coaches and residents into a frenzy while there are no sob stories of the unfortunate ones. Davenport does not balance the scales and portrays all of Flint’s athletes as superheroes. This is not true. Otherwise, I would be in the NBA.
Another aspect missing in action is Flint’s education system. Davenport makes it clear that education is the last thing on these students’ minds, so he might as well not include what is considered insignificant in the community. However, when you display in the marquee that eighteen million people in Flint do not have a GED or diploma , you need to address that issue. People whining and moaning about how they cannot obtain a “30,000 salary jobs,” is prevalent within the film, and isn’t it a little bit obvious why not? Without any education or job-related skills, these individuals have nothing to offer the working world. The lack of schooling and/or the lack of ascribing importance to it are not providing these valuable skills to students.
The education issue also fails to instill some sense of having to work in the community. These particular segments that have gone missing portray the athletes the enemies. Public enemy #1 is Eddie Robinson who is not willing to donate money to Flint because he has to pay for his million dollar home and car. Though I do not agree completely with Robinson’s logic, there is one important statement where he says he has difficulty deciding whether people really need money or if they are just asking for it. This is an important statement because I believe a number of the residents are just asking for it. They do not have an education and are not working to make themselves better. They just play basketball and then just sit around waiting for someone to help them out like the homeless. You have to work hard if you want to be successful in this life, and I do not believe that residents of Flint understand this. Some may answer in response that they’re working to get a college scholarship to play basketball. Well, why don’t they try to get a scholarship for something besides basketball? They know that not everyone makes it, so I do not see why they are not looking for other options. Has the “scholar” in scholarship disappeared as well?
Though I wish I could give my life to the sport that I love so dearly, I know that “reality hits” and I have to have some kind of backup plan. Flint does not have one, and Flint does not believe they have one. It will be near impossible to start a new culture in this area as it has already trickled down to the next generation. I cannot erase the image of the little kid raised by his grandparents who is already mentally set on making it to the NBA.