A familiar but important topic is explored through the lens of an unusual subject in Amazon’s new docuseries.
Meek Mill isn’t famous for being a victim of the American injustice system — he’s famous for being a talented musician. And that’s an important element of Free Meek, Amazon Prime’s new docuseries exploring his role in a system unfairly rigged to punish people for what they are, rather than what they’ve done. His fame and subsequent success make Meek Mill less likely to garner sympathy than, say, Kalief Browder, or the five young subjects of Ava DuVernay’s When They See Us, or even Steven Avery. But that might be the point. Meek’s celebrity is proof that the system can, to a certain extent, be beaten; that it can at least be fought, and that true reform is not only possible in theory but achievable in practice,
Free Meek also makes a point of vindicating hip-hop — a long-time scapegoat of the conservative right for its apparent glorification of illegality and promotion of racial and cultural stereotypes. But with Free Meek Amazon is able to establish a visible, direct relationship between the rapper’s lyrics and his experiences. It shows you where the anger stems from — and justifies it. It helps to rewrite the context of hip-hop not as a provocation but as truth; its poeticism the fast-track delivery system straight to those who might otherwise not be open to hearing it.
Formally, Free Meek isn’t doing anything new. It’s structured and paced in the way you’d imagine, combining archival footage, reenactments, and interviews across five episodes of slightly varying length. Its comparatively short runtime helps it move along, covering bases and making points with the same fast, forceful delivery as its subject tends to. The narrative throughline — that of struggle, rejection, closure, and success in spite of it all — is clear, though, giving shape and purpose to the usual dramatics. Its lack of newness doesn’t sap any of its truth or importance, and its refreshingly hopeful conclusion has power, whatever you think of Meek Mill and his music.
In Free Meek, Amazon Prime looks to take a page out of Netflix’s book on exposing racial inequality and highlighting the need for cultural reform. The root of streaming services’ fascination with the subject might be cynical — such shows entice large, enthusiastic audiences, after all. But the fiscal realities don’t invalidate the importance of challenging power or its many contradictions. which these shows do, loudly and — perhaps more importantly — for all the world to see.