From top to bottom, Lifetime has shifted its brand ethos toward female strength and equality, but two upcoming original movies, Flint and I Am Elizabeth Smart, may be the firmest pillars yet of its growing “Fempire”.
Both dramas use nuanced portraits of real-world women to examine some of the day’s most pressing issues – in Flint, the fight against government corruption by way of some of the activists at the heart of the Flint, Michigan water scandal; in I Am Elizabeth Smart, the struggle of child victims of abduction, rape and sexual abuse by way of Smart herself, the Salt Lake City native who, at 14, was kidnapped by a religious fanatic and held captive for nine months before she engineered her own rescue.
“I swore up and down I would never write a book, never do a movie,” Smart said at the Television Critics Association summer press tour on Friday. “For years I felt that way, but little by little I got more involved in advocacy, met more survivors, until eventually I realized I have an opportunity to share my story. Because there are so many other survivors out there who feel like nobody else possibly understands what they’re going through.”
Premiering on Lifetime on November 18, I Am Elizabeth Smart is a scripted, narrative account of the ordeal starring Alana Boden as Smart and Skeet Ulrich as her captor Brian David Mitchell. It pairs with a two-part, autobiographical documentary event, Elizabeth Smart: Autobiography, debuting November 12-13. Smart served as producer on the former and narrates the latter.
Seeing Smart speak convinced the film’s creators to go with the hybrid documentary-drama approach, said I Am Elizabeth Smart Executive Producer Joseph Freed: “We thought right away after seeing her ability to tell her own story so effectively that we had to have that as part of the project. As we got to know Elizabeth, we learned that she felt her story had never been told properly and this was an opportunity not only to tell her story but to put her front and center.”
Added Co-Executive Producer Allison Berkeley: “We worked on it for two years before we even went out to pitch. It was important to build that trust, to understand Elizabeth’s point of view, and we are really fortunate that she allowed us into her life.”
While both films will surely appeal to a certain fan of tabloid-driven true crime, the creators hope to have a broader impact in a time when victims of sexual assault continue to be marginalized. When a hastily made film emerged following the original incident in 2002, it “didn’t even mention rape,” Freed said, “which was such a pivotal part of Elizabeth’s challenge and what she overcame. Now we can tell the complete story.”
Debuting October 28 on Lifetime, Flint is another hard-hitting, issue-oriented drama that tells the story of the local activists who drew national attention to the city’s municipal water health crisis. In a time when faith in government institutions has been damaged around the country, Executive Producer Neil Meron said the film is “incredibly timely in terms of how people from the community can band together and change. I think it’s something that’s going on today in other aspects of society in terms of the town-hall meetings, the impact with the health-care act.”
Meron was joined by real-life Flint resident and activist Melissa Mays and her on-screen counterpart Marin Ireland.
“We want to let people know that it’s still not over, not even close,” Mays said. “Two hundred people that we know have lost their lives…but in a poor, broken, disbanded town we fought and we won. We want people to know that one, just because their water is clear doesn’t mean it’s safe, and two, they don’t have to bow to corrupt government officials.
Added Meron, “It’s wonderful that [Flint is airing] on Lifetime. It really does speak to a certain stratum of people who may not know this story, who may call themselves into action.”