Freedia Got a Gun [AFI DOCS Review]

Big Freedia is a New Orleans musician known for the form of hip-hop called “bounce.” It's landed her numerous TV appearances, a shout-out on a Beyonce record, and a reality show that ran on the Fuse network, among other things. You get to see a much different side of this unique performer in Chris McKim's Freedia Got a Gun. This isn't about music, or partying at clubs, or having fun. Instead, it's a hard-hitting look at how Freedia uses her substantial influence in New Orleans to bring attention to the issue of gun violence. And the inspiration for her mission, tragically, is the shooting death of her brother. The documentary has its Virtual World Premiere at the 2020 AFI DOCS festival.

Spurred by Adam's passing and the mystery behind it, Freedia decided to use her fame to bring attention to the issue, which disproportionately impacts Black communities. After a brief glimpse into her rise in the entertainment business, the film gets down to brass tacks. We see Freedia going into a middle school, where kids in their early teens acknowledge carrying weapons and/or having shot at other people. She goes into a prison, hoping to discourage inmates from returning to a life of violence once they're paroled. She joins activists protesting in the streets. Anywhere Freedia thinks her voice could make an impression, she shows up.

The most affecting section of the film is the relationship she has with a teen boy. He's already on a bad path, “beefing” with another kid who fired a shot at him. Freedia wants him to let the feud drop for both their sakes, but he can't get past the fact that his enemy tried to end his life. In these moments, you really feel what's at stake. When even kids barely into adolescence see gun violence as a natural part of life, it's a recipe for disaster. To her credit, Freedia doesn't give up on him.

Freedia Got a Gun is distinguished by its personal tone. Other documentaries about senseless gun deaths exist. This one, however, has an important subtext, which is that a single voice has power and many voices amplify that power. Freedia recognizes that, as a celebrity, she carries a certain clout. People pay attention to her. Is that enough to push the needle in the opposite direction? Perhaps, by encouraging others to join her message. I really like how the movie examines one individual's efforts to make an impact on a severe societal problem. We're left with the impression that – although the fight continues -- every time someone commits to the cause, it represents another step toward identifying a solution.

Scored with some of Big Freedia's songs and unafraid to dig deep in examining the impact of gun violence, Freedia Got a Gun proves to be a documentary well worth seeing. For various, mostly selfish reasons, a lot of groups in this country don't want to talk about the gun problem. Freedia – who lays her emotions on the table here – knows discussion is vital, and her fearlessness in speaking up is inspiring.

Freedia Got a Gun is unrated but contains mature subject matter and language. The running time is 1 hour and 25 minutes.