Independent film-maker Vikram Gandhi tells a truly all-American rags-to-riches-to-documentary-fodder story, one intensely grounded in the terroir of New York City, about his Bushwick neighbour Tekashi69, AKA 6ix9ine, AKA Danny Hernandez.
Those over the age of 30 who are not au fait with what the kids are into these days may be less familiar with Hernandez’s story, and thus why he might be deserving of a documentary, so here are the key facts. Raised in poverty in Brooklyn’s not-yet-gentrified Bushwick, he went from working in a bodega to becoming a rap superstar notorious for his facial tattoos, rainbow-coloured hair, sexually explicit videos and gangster attitude. After several earlier brushes with the law, including pleading guilty to using a child in a sexual performance, he was arrested in 2018 on a number of charges including racketeering, conspiracy to commit murder and armed robbery, so he flipped on his own crew, the Nine Trey gang, got a reduced sentence and was later released from prison into home confinement because of the Covid outbreak.
Editorialising throughout via voiceover, Gandhi adroitly navigates the problematic morality of his subject, a fame-hungry narcissist with a traumatic childhood, some talent and an ability to charm. But that doesn’t mean Gandhi, or more importantly the people in Hernandez’s life such as Sara Molina, his childhood sweetheart andthe mother of his child, or the friends he betrayed, have to forgive him. The film throws a wide net and features many in Hernandez’s circle, from his tattooist and the lovely woman who dyed his hair, to his producer, who remains loyal to the crazy kid he first met.
Having been a cinematographer on several other films, Gandhi serves up great street footage of Bushwick and beyond. He also has a Werner Herzogian knack for hilariously weird moments, like the one in the opening scene where he’s trying to get someone to open up about Hernandez, only to have the interview sabotaged by a woman shouting from a window above (very New York) that he shouldn’t say shit about 6ix9ine, that he didn’t know the guy, that he has nothing to say.
Even viewers who might find 6ix9ine and his gangbanger nonsense repugnant can still find much to admire in this well-made film essay.