Over the course of five half-hour episodes, Amazon's "Free Meek" covers a lot of ground and tackles a number of complex topics. It's a dense series, frequently frustrating and emotional, that reminded me at times of Netflix's "Making a Murderer," if it had an upbeat, life-affirming finale. This is an important story for Americans to hear, and one that's still frankly kind of shocking, even years after activist movements like Black Lives Matter brought issues with the criminal justice system to the forefront of our national conversation.
The film covers the full life of rapper Meek Mill (born Robert Rihmeek Williams), beginning with his childhood in some of the poorer neighborhoods of Philadelphia, which had been ravaged in the 1980s by the crack epidemic and the ensuing mass incarceration of young black men. But the action really takes focus when Meek is 19 years old and arrested during a drug raid on the home of his cousins. Meek is sentenced to 11-23 months in prison, followed by 10 years of probation, and it's that last part -- the probation -- that will plague him for the next 11 years until he's well into his 30s.
The film chronicles the rise of Meek's career as a recording artist -- becoming a hometown Philly icon, collaborating with Rick Ross, signing with Roc Nation, releasing a string of popular albums -- and the various minor offenses and violations that constantly bring him back to the courtroom of Judge Genece Brinkley. The film really does have it in for Judge Brinkley, who's depicted as almost entirely irrational, with a personal fixation on Meek that borders on obsession.
I'll be honest: they make a very convincing case. Even the lawyer brought in to represent Judge Brinkley's side tells the filmmakers that she's a lunatic the moment he thinks they've cut his microphone. (Fortunately, they had not.) But it's still surprising to see an individual so clearly singled out as the VILLAIN of an entire docu-series, particularly one that's about fundamental problems in criminal justice nationwide. She's going to have to change her name or something.
Though the series does a great job of following the details of Meek's case specifically and making it a compelling narrative, "Free Meek" has a lot more on its mind than just this single story. Toward the end of his journey through the justice system, Meek decides to dedicate his life to working on some of the problems he's observed first-hand and helping others who have been unfairly incarcerated. The series is at its strongest when it's drawing these parallels, between the unfairness and double-standards faced by Meek Mill and thousands or even millions of other black Americans in every state in the US.
"Free Meek" is not always a pleasant story, but it's fast-paced and compelling -- with a lot of very frank and open interview subjects, including Meek Mill and his family -- and I breezed through all five episodes very quickly. This is a solid single-afternoon watch if you don't have much else going on that day.
Title: "Free Meek"
Where to Watch: Amazon Prime Video
Episodes: 5 (1 season)
Running time: 33-45 minutes each