90’s nostalgia often captures the sweet days of frosted tips, and the limited (but perfect amount) of technology. Thirtysomethings love being taken down memory lane, to days of blowing on their CD’s before popping them into their boombox. However, this same nostalgia also carries a burden of equal weight—as things weren’t in reality often that perfect. Hulu’s documentary, “Kid90,” is a present-day retelling of actress Soleil Moon Frye’s upbringing, coupled with anecdotes from friends and castmates.
It, of course, features noteworthy ’90s relics, but it also dives into certain topics that, at the time, were not discussed. “Kid90” explores the 90’s stance on topics such as mental health, authenticity, child stardom and the fears of entering adulthood.
People feel so attached to those days because they weren’t compelled to post, alter and “perfect” their social profiles. They did not depend on their devices obsessively. Kids were just being kids. #nofilter.
That’s where Soleil Moon Frye comes in. Snapchat definitely did not exist when Moon Frye was a kid. Moon Frye documented everything on her video camera since she was a kid, up until what seems to be her mid-twenties. She locked up the videos and took several steps back from them for a 20-year long period. In her youth, desperate to present her authentic self to the public, the actress felt a sense of authority when she was behind the camera. Pre-internet craze, people were just being themselves. The film then showed flashbacks of Danny O’Connor, Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark-Paul Gosselar, Brian Austin Green, David Arquette, Charlie Sheen, and more.
Background of Soleil Moon Frye
Cast as Penelope “Punky” Brewster in the sitcom, ‘Punky Brewster,’ at age seven, the child actress was destined for fame. Or at least she thought. Of course Moon Frye exchanged hands with huge names (her father was actor and former Golden Gloves boxing champion, Virgil Frye). However, seeing the influence that her child-actor role played in the lives of many youngsters, left her with double the confusion growing up. Moon Frye saw a lot of herself in her Punky Brewster character and she couldn’t really differentiate between the persona and herself.
As if her perfect childhood TV role wasn’t enough, Moon Frye spoke on her rapid development while in puberty. This garnered even more unwanted attention—or attention, but for the wrong reasons. She was getting “t**s and a**” roles, when she was barely 13. She went from a childhood role to a very forced adult role. As a teenager, “men treated me like a woman instead of a girl” Moon Frye stated. “I just want people to see me for the person that I am.” Consequently, this prompted the actress to get a breast reduction surgery just so she could feel normal and be treated as such.
Unfortunately, this procedure was part of a much bigger problem: navigating adolescence in the public eye. In an industry where women are objectified even more than usual, Moon Frye felt forced into adulthood. The male gaze played a significant role in her life, as did her father’s lack of presence. Moon Frye’s relationship with adulthood began to get tricky.
Young Hollywood Stardom in the ’90s
Following her operation, she began to embrace adulthood and wanted to ‘be a grown up so bad.’ She wanted to be taken more seriously, and move on from the role that the public still forced on her. But that was a challenging endeavor for Moon Frye, since people weren’t really willing to let go of her Punky Brewster days. Selfish with their own nostalgia, people chose to continue seeing her as the cute little girl she played in her former years. They refused to accept the natural tides of time.
This societal rejection consequently sparked even more of a rebellion within the star. Going between California and New York (for college), Moon Frye continued to narrate her teenage years. Footage of kissing, smoking and taking hallucinogens appeared in the film, as well as frequent banter between the actress and her friends. The film showed casual audio recordings of Charlie Sheen asking the actress out, along with videos of DiCaprio mentioning how much taller he grew.
After mentioning some crushes she had here and there, one notable name was rapper Daniel O’Connor, or ‘Danny Boy.’ O’Connor was famous for being in the music group ‘House of Pain.’ Their song “Jump Around” was a hit in 1992, making its place as top 3 in the US. For its time, the song gained lots of traction because of its style. It’s a blend of rap and rock, two genres previously believed to belong in different worlds. With this being said, Moon Frye spending a lot of time with the rapper meant even more partying. Dark paths and confusion weaved in and out of her teenage years.
Mental health wasn’t really one of them, and the documentary serves as a testimony for that. Today, we are much better about making this topic a conversation point. Bigger names are starting to address it, most academic institutions provide psychological resources, and people are even profiting off of it through apps. But even if we were to go back to just 10 years ago, it wouldn’t carry the same sense of urgency that it does today. So you can only imagine how unpopular the topic of mental health was 25-30 years ago.
The film featured footage of Moon Frye’s college years in New York. Skate culture and Rastafarianism made their way into the actress’ day-to-day, and she had a huge group of friends that she called family. Some of her friends showed inherent signs of depleting mental health. They confessed their intimate thoughts to the camera; negative, dark compulsions that were desperate cries for help. At the time, Moon Frye didn’t pay them much mind since she was recording almost everything. But eventually, those friends took their own lives. Things that they told the camera foreshadowed their fate, leaving loved ones wondering why.
Looking back on old footage, present-day Moon Frye appeared tense and mournful. “How often do we really look at somebody and say ‘how are you’ and actually hear them back?” Moon Frye regarded. She began ruminating on those moments where she sat behind the camera as the lens captured clear distress signals. Questioning why she didn’t pay attention to those signs before shows us the bigger issue at hand. Society in the 90’s simply didn’t have as much research on mental health as there is today. “I don’t think I’ve been living a lie for the last 20 years, but I certainly haven’t been f****** listening.”
The ’90s, for all the cultural artifacts it gifted us, was equal parts dreadful as it was wonderful. “Life is beautiful, and it’s messy, and it’s complicated,” Moon Frye said as the documentary wrapped up. Music was richer and cultures were more vibrant, but certain important topics were not only disregarded, but left for oblivion. As such, Moon Frye concluded the film with the lesson that she learned from her long journey of archives. Reliving her memories – however bad or good they might have been – was a refreshing reminder of the beauty of life.