'St. Louis Superman' explores the life of a battle rapping hero in the government

  /  05.20.2019

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“We need superheroes to save our communities. But, it ain’t about running into a burning building. It ain’t about fighting some abnormal monster. It’s about using the skills you have, your communication, your heart, your passion, your drive, to save and change lives every day,” Representative Bruce Franks Jr. told REVOLT TV.

Superman walked amongst the people he served. Sure, he was an alien. But, the man the world saw — Clark Kent — was a reflection of the people he grew to protect. Bruce Franks Jr. is a state representative for Missouri, a battle rapper, and an activist. But, more importantly, to his community, he’s “St. Louis Superman.” For 25 gripping minutes in the documentary of the same name, we get this superhero’s origin story.

The documentary St. Louis Superman, which had its world premiere at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, explores the trauma and the triumph endured by a man who goes from being pepper-sprayed in the face by police while protesting in Ferguson, Missouri over the murder of Michael Brown in 2014, to an elected official in the Missouri House of Representatives in 2016. Franks Jr. gives directors Sami Khan and Smriti Mundhr unfettered access to everything in his life between the filming dates of March 2018 – August 2018. We see the first time Franks Jr. takes his son to the spot where his younger brother was killed, and we see him having a bill passed in regards to declaring youth violence in Missouri a public health epidemic. We also get a voyeuristic look into his preparation for his first rap battle in St. Louis after being elected. All of those candid moments and confessionals from Franks Jr.’s life reveal one singular truth that empowers this community superhero: he’s made by the people he serves.

“I had an organization (28 To Life) where I mentored young men and young women from the hood. I helped them get jobs. I helped with police/community relationships. I also fought to bring police accountability for those that don’t need to be on the force,” he explained. “Everybody would be like, ‘Ahhh, you’re a superhero. You’re a superhero.’ So, they started calling me ‘Superman,’ like, ‘You can handle it all.’ I was still protesting. Even as a state representative, I [did] protests, I shut down the highway, I got locked up a couple of times for this.”

In the doc, Franks Jr. attests that “being a state rep and a battle rapper is the same thing” and we get to see how through his experiences in the doc. We see Franks Jr. speak at a community center to formerly incarcerated men who are seeking jobs, as he tells them that he’s the best person to speak for their — and the community’s — issues with the government. One of the next scenes in the doc is him in a battle explaining the same idea to an opponent, stating, “Who better to answer those signals when my city needs a Dark Knight for those dark nights?” Frank Jr. accepts his role as a superhero and wields his words as superpowers.

”If I’m preparing to hear a bill or present a bill, and I know somebody is about to argue against my bill, then I need to figure out what their rebuttal is going to be. Kind of ‘8 Mile’ it. Put it out there, beforehand, so they really ain’t got no rebuttals for it,” Franks Jr. said.

What the St. Louis Superman cameras didn’t capture were those battle rap tactics put into action on the house floor. There was one incident, Franks Jr. explained, when he was arguing with Republican representative and President Trump supporter Nick Schroer about a Democrat-sponsored amendment Schorer didn’t think did enough to fix an issue at hand. To make his point salient, Schroer used an analogy involving President Trump’s controversial border wall — an analogy that made Franks Jr. easily counter — thanks to his years of battle rapping experience — with what he calls “a haymaker on the house floor.”

“He said, ‘Well, it’s kind of like the border wall and my amendment would fix everything. But, over in Congress, we got Congress paying for a wall. Then, we get to a point where there’s pushback and they’ve paid for half of a wall. That’s kind of how this amendment is. It’s almost done. But, it doesn’t get the job done,’” Franks Jr. explained. “I said, ‘Well, gentlemen, just like how we don’t need your amendment, we don’t need that wall.’ It was a straight mic drop moment.”

Being a superhero doesn’t mean being superhuman, and even St. Louis Superman succumbs to the stresses of being a black man in America. In the doc, Franks Jr. is heard in an audio recording, dated at the top of 2017, saying he’s been to 167 funerals in his life. He told REVOLT TV earlier this month that, that number has risen to 201. The only reason that he has these numbers tattooed in his memory is because he and his sister counted all the R.I.P. shirts and obituaries they’ve ever collected. These funerals have weighed on him so much that Franks Jr. has had a nightmare where his mind “literally replayed all of [those funerals].” He even reveals in the documentary that he suffers from anxiety.

“When you’re used to so many funerals, you’re trying to anticipate the next one. The longer you go between funerals, you start thinking, ‘Oh, who’s going to die next? What’s going to happen?’ It’s rough having that mindset all of the time,” he told us.

For a 25-minute documentary, St. Louis Superman goes in-depth into Franks Jr.’s psyche, family life, and how he balances being an elected official and a battle rapper with nuanced clarity. The doc opens with him and his son singing the chorus to Archie Eversole’s 2003 anthem “We Ready.” It ends with Franks Jr. and his son marching and chanting with protestors. Those two moments exemplify the purpose of St. Louis Superman: to give a humanizing look into a new type of activist.

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