‘Freaknik’ documentary tells untold story behind the massively popular Atlanta street party

FILE - Crowds of people jam Marietta Street for Freaknik near the intersection of Peachtree Street in Atlanta on April 19, 1996. A new Hulu documentary “Freaknik: The Wildest Story Never Told,” touches on how the event started as an innocent Black College cookout that ultimately drew thousands from across the United States. (Philip McCollum/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP, File)

FILE – Crowds of people jam Marietta Street for Freaknik near the intersection of Peachtree Street in Atlanta on April 19, 1996. A new Hulu documentary “Freaknik: The Wildest Story Never Told,” touches on how the event started as an innocent Black College cookout that ultimately drew thousands from across the United States. (Philip McCollum/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP, File)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — If you participated in Atlanta’s wildest gathering called Freaknik back in the day, then beware: You might be featured in Hulu’s new documentary about the legendary street party that became popular through folklore tales involving gridlock traffic, public nudity and highway debauchery.

Many of those images will certainly be on full display in “Freaknik: The Wildest Party Never Told.” But the documentary isn’t just focused on the hyper-sexualized environment and public safety concerns attached to the festival birthed four decades ago. It’s also about how the iconic event started as a simple, Black college cookout that ultimately drew thousands from across the United States, defining Atlanta as a cultural and music hotbed.

“This is more about the culture. This is Atlanta’s version of ‘Beat Street’” said Jermaine Dupri, who executive produced the project with several others including Luther “Uncle Luke” Campbell and 21 Savage. The documentary premiered Tuesday night at SXSW in Austin, Texas. It will stream on Hulu on March 21.

“This is our story about our contribution to the culture,” Dupri continued. “Through the music and the parties that happened during Freaknik. It’s much more than people standing on top of cars and playing music outside.”

“Freaknik” will feature perspectives from Killer Mike, Jalen Rose, CeeLo Green, Rasheeda and Too $hort. The project includes Freaknik founders Emma Horton, Amadi Boone, Monique Tolliver and Sharon Toomer who discuss the festival’s origin and the name Freaknik — a portmanteau of picnic and freak. It was inspired by R&B group Chic’s 1978 song “Le Freak.”

Dupri initially questioned whether the documentary would only focus on the festival’s sexual nature. But the music mogul was convinced otherwise after he met with Swirl Films producers Jay Allen and Nikki Byles, who told him the documentary would focus on the full backstory.

“We want people who didn’t experience Freaknik to relive the good, bad and the ugly,” Allen said. “For the people that were there, they’ll be able to tell their stories and their truth.”

Dupri wants viewers to see how Freaknik elevated Atlanta’s now-thriving hip-hop music scene and helped it become a destination for Black entrepreneurship and empowerment. He heard the criticism about the documentary “putting Black people backwards.” There also were reports that some women would take legal action to block the documentary’s release over fears of potential exposure in flashback clips. It is unclear if a lawsuit was ever filed.

“It’s all educational. It’s Black history personally to me,” said Dupri, who attended Freaknik. “For those who need that assurance, I would never allow my name to be involved with something that’s going to put a black eye on Atlanta or do anything that I feel like is going to set this culture backwards.”

Uncle Luke called those critics “hypocrites” for partaking in the raunchy Freaknik activities then criticizing this generation for admiring hip-hop artists like Cardi B, Ice Spice and Sexyy Red, who are known for suggestive performances.

“They’ll get a little taste of their own medicine,” said Luke, who was regarded as the godfather of Freaknik for inserting his provocative nature into the festival. The documentary’s footage was mostly crowdsourced while some came from his VHS tapes that were converted into digital.

Other footage was secured by Byles through social media outreach and by knocking on doors of past Freaknik attendees who provided what they were comfortable handing over.

“It’s easy to point fingers at people’s kids, and saying they’re living a life that in all actuality they lived as parents,” Uncle Luke said. “I wanted to show that perspective. But then there’s this big myth about Freaknik. A lot of people from the West Coast heard about it. Some people heard the stories. It was this story that was never really told. We wanted to tell this story from where it really came from.”

Freaknik was a sprawling street party throughout Atlanta from 1983 to 1999. The three-day event held in April was created by Black college students (Morehouse and Spelman colleges) from the DC Metro Club who were stuck on campus during spring break and decided to gather at the park to combat boredom with their boom boxes, coolers and food.

Over the years, Freaknik became a spring-break destination through a grassroots method, attracting around 250,000 partygoers from across the country. The event was so massive that it spilled throughout downtown and metro areas.

But as Freaknik’s popularity grew, the uncontrolled crowds invited a slew of problems. By the mid-1990s, the fun-filled event morphed into an unruly one and eventually wore out its welcome after sporadic looting, massive traffic jams and lewd activities. City officials shut things down after tensions continually brewed between festivalgoers, law enforcement and local residents.

Toomer, one of the original organizers, said she was impressed with how the documentary explored Freaknik’s full backstory. Toomer’s disappointed with the festival’s ending, but she hopes viewers understand the true essence of their creation.

“I do think people will have that moment of ‘I didn’t know that’ and have a certain appreciation for it,” she said. “I’m excited about that. It truly was — in its best years and its even so-so years — a special event. It’s been frustrating over the years to have to begin the conversation with the word, as opposed to the experience that so many Black young people found.”

Director P. Frank Williams said the documentary covers the convergence of politics, media, music and culture. He said it’ll also touch on those who tried to revive Freaknik but were unsuccessful.

“I know people on the internet and everybody is looking for all of the candy, the fun, the girls, the turn up, the cars,” Williams said. “We gave you that if you watched the film. But there’s also the vegetables, which is Black culture. Black identity. Trying to go against a system that was preparing for the (1996) Olympics and didn’t necessarily want these kids on the streets. It’s a much deeper story.

“Everybody is worried about their aunties and all these memes,” he said. “But hopefully after you watch it, you’ll see we did something much more than just a party.”

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This story has been updated to correct Amandi Boone’s last name.

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