“Freaknik: The Greatest Party Never Told ”

#1   Freaknik
CROSSTOWN TRAFFIC: Young people enjoy Atlanta’s most famous street party in the documentary “Freaknik: The Greatest Party Never Told.”
Monday April 1, 2024 12:00 PM EDT
Cost: On Hulu.
Disclaimer: All prices are current as of the posting date and are subject to change. Please check the venue or ticket sales site for the current pricing.

CRITIC’S PICK: A common knock against today’s young people is that they spend so much time filming things with their smartphones they don’t appreciate what’s going on in front of them. Hulu’s Freaknik: The Greatest Party Never Told suggests that trait is older than people might think. Chunky video cameras are seemingly everywhere in the documentary’s footage of young Black people partying — and recording themselves — on Atlanta’s streets in the 1980s and 1990s.

Directed by P Frank Williams, Freaknik relies heavily on amateur video of the events, particularly with shots of young women dancing alongside or atop cars. The video aesthetic applies to its framing device as the documentary “rewinds,” with visible tracking distortion, from present-day talking-head interviews back to the ever-enlarging parties of 30-40 years ago.

To the uninformed, Freaknik provides a lively history lesson. Many of Atlanta’s black colleges had “state clubs” comprised of students from, say, Washington, D.C. In 1983, the D.C. Metro Club held a spring break party for students who couldn’t afford to go home or travel. A picnic partially named for Chic’s disco hit “Le Freak,” “Freaknic” was so successful that it kept going, with word of mouth over the years scaling it up into a national event that drew hundreds of thousands.

The documentary makes a strong argument that Freaknik served as a gathering of Black creators and consumers that became an incubator for Atlanta’s cultural scene as we know it today. The first Outkast cassette sampler was given out to Freaknik visitors, who were essentially a captive audience in bumper-to-bumper traffic.

The film points out that Freaknik hit its heights of popularity simultaneously with the rise of Miami-centered, sexually suggestive hip-hop from the likes of 2 Live Crew. Some women reminisce about enjoying the chance to cut loose and feel sexually liberated, but others point out times when men could be disrespectful. In the most harrowing moment, a woman describes having her clothes torn off by a mob, and the film cuts between TV footage of her from 1998 and a more recent interview.

Freaknik acknowledges tensions with the city’s white community, but suggests that the beginning of the end was the selection of Atlanta to host the 1996 Olympic games. The city clamping down on the event is framed as an image-conscious business decision: “Freaknik was bringing $15 million, but the Olympics was bringing $2 billion.”

The documentary features celebrities like Jermaine Dupri and CeeLo Green waxing nostalgic for Freaknik at its best, as well as younger people who feel sentimental for something they never knew: “The 90s resonate with us because they knew how to have fun. The world was more, like, pure.” The film can become visually repetitious but successfully addresses Freaknik and its importance from all angles. Freaknik: The Greatest Party Never Told takes a wistful look back without ever wearing rose-colored classes. — Curt Holman

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