5 things you might not have known about Freaknik, from the new Hulu documentary

The documentary, which premiered at SXSW this week, will stream on Hulu beginning March 21

5 things you might not have known about Freaknik, from the new Hulu documentary
Director P. Frank Williams, Jermaine Dupri, showrunner Geraldine Porras, and Uncle Luke at Freaknik: The Wildest Party Never Told’s SXSW premiere.

Photograph courtesy of Hulu

Hulu’s new original documentary Freaknik: The Wildest Party Never Told tells the story of how a 1983 picnic for Atlanta HBCU students in the meadow at Piedmont Park became, by the mid-1990s, a national Spring Break destination for hundreds of thousands of young people each April. The engrossing 82-minute cultural examination of the city’s epic street party features ample archival footage of the annual traffic-stopping, bass-thumping, booty-shaking weekend. As rapper Lil Jon aptly observes in the film: “It was the ultimate street party, not just on one street but the entire city of Atlanta. The interstate, the highway, nobody was moving.”

Adds Jermaine Dupri, So So Def Records founder and one of the film’s executive producers: “It was a club outside the club—in the middle of Peachtree Street, dancing, playing your music. People watching you, people filming you. Then a girl from another car runs up to your car and you ain’t tripping, you let her stand up on the hood of your car. It’s a moment.”

But beyond all of the salacious camcorder video footage, Freaknik: The Wildest Party Never Told is a poignant history lesson about Atlanta’s Black power structure, its role in the civil rights movement, and its home to iconic HBCUs Spelman, Morehouse, Clark Atlanta, and Morris Brown College. As professor and author Marc Lamont Hill explains in the film, “Atlanta represents possibility—economic possibility, cultural possibility and educational possibility. There is a history in this country of the establishment not wanting Black people to have access to education. And so, we had to build our own.”

The film, which had its world premiere Tuesday night at SXSW at the ZACH Theatre in Austin, Texas and will debut March 21 on Hulu, features interviews with everyone from rapper 21 Savage and 2 Live Crew legend Luther “Uncle Luke” Campbell (both executive producers on the project) to Killer Mike, former Indiana Pacers NBA star Jalen Rose, rapper Too $hort, Goodie Mob and Gnarls Barkley member CeeLo Green, and former Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed.

5 things you might not have known about Freaknik, from the new Hulu documentary
Jermaine Dupri in the new documentary

Photograph courtesy of Hulu

And whether you attended or endured the annual citywide street party, Freaknik: The Wildest Party Never Told offers lots of new insights and fresh historical context. Here’s five things highlighted in the new Hulu doc that even long-time Atlantans might not know about Freaknik’s enduring legacy.

1. A late 1970s disco song inspired the name
One of the greatest joys of Freaknik: The Wildest Party Never Told is the emotional Atlanta reunion of the HBCU students who founded “Freaknic” in 1983 as a cookout for college kids who couldn’t go home for Spring Break. “The way it started is not the way it ended,” says co-founder Monique Tolliver in the doc. “People don’t know that. When people hear Freaknik, they think of the ‘90s, but people did not know about the ‘80s.” Adds co-founder Emma Horton: “We had no inclination about the depth of the legacy we were creating.” The cookout’s name was inspired by the 1978 disco hit “Le Freak” by Chic and the dance that accompanied it. Explains Tolliver: “The Freak [we were doing] wasn’t scandalous. It was fun.”

2. A Different World helped the event go national
Decades before a viral TikTok video could instantly popularize a party or social gathering, a 1989 episode of the Cosby Show spinoff set at the fictional HBCU Hillman College helped put Atlanta’s Spring Break event in the national spotlight when two of the sitcom’s characters sneak off to attend a Freaknik concert. The previous year, Morehouse Man Spike Lee’s shot-in-Atlanta School Daze also helped to popularize the HBCU experience. Explains former Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed in the film: “It was organic. That’s why it grew and took off and attracted thousands of people.”

5 things you might not have known about Freaknik, from the new Hulu documentary

Photograph courtesy of Hulu

3. Freaknik helped kick-start Atlanta’s hip-hop reign
In the spring of 1992, Kriss Kross—the teen hip-hop duo Jermaine Dupri discovered—provided the event’s unofficial theme song when “Jump” blasted out of cars idling in Atlanta. The success of that single helped pave the way for other emerging So So Def acts, including Xscape, Bow Wow, Da Brat and Jagged Edge. Explains Killer Mike in the doc: “When you went to Freaknik, you saw that [Atlanta Home of So So Def Recordings] sign.”

4. OutKast blew up at Freaknik
Andre 3000 and Big Boi’s timing was impeccable when their dropped their debut album Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik the same week as Freaknik in 1994, just as the event hit its traffic-snarling peak. With thousands of college kids idling in their cars going nowhere fast, street teams from LaFace Records handling out free cassette samplers of the album had a captive audience. Soon, Freaknik revelers were blasting Player’s Ball from one end of Peachtree Street downtown to Peachtree Road in Buckhead. Explains Organized Noize producer Rico Wade: “The OutKast sampler spread like weeds. It was being handed out in everybody’s car and it meant you were cool.”

5. The 1996 Summer Olympics were the beginning of Freaknik’s end
By April 1996, just three months before Atlanta was scheduled to play host to the world for the Centennial Olympic Games—and with Freaknik arrests and rape reports rising—then-Atlanta Mayor Bill Campbell, Atlanta Police, and business leaders had had enough. Campbell ordered streets and interstate exits barricaded, essentially dead-ending the rolling street party. Explains Kasim Reed in the doc, “Mayor Campbell embraced Freaknik when it was a more manageable event. But it changed into something else. The Olympics was the single biggest thing to happen in the history of the city and he had to make some tough decisions.” Adds Georgia State University professor Dr. Maurice Hobson in Freaknik: The Wildest Party Never Told: “While Freaknik attracted a million college students to Atlanta, the Olympics attracted 10 million. Freaknik may have brought in $15 million to the city coffers but the Olympics brought in $2 billion. This was a business decision Bill Campbell is making.”

While it’s difficult to imagine Freaknik in the age of TikTok and Instagram Live, professor and author Marc Lamont Hill makes the case in the Wildest Party Never Told that young people still need an outlet to express themselves: “We need Freaknik. We need Black joy and not on the internet.”

The Hulu original documentary Freaknik: The Wildest Party Never Told premiered Tuesday night at SXSW in Austin and will begin streaming on Hulu on March 21.