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‘Little Richard: I Am Everything’ Traces the Roots of a Rock & Roll Innovator (Review)

You can say a lot of things about Little Richard, but you can’t ever say that he was shy.

He spent decades telling anyone who would listen that he was the architect of rock and roll. And, of course, he truly was a pioneer but the extreme racism of the American South meant that his singles became even bigger hits when watered down by white artists like Pat Boone and Elvis.

Little Richard (Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures)

In her fantastic documentary, filmmaker Lisa Cortés attempts to correct the record. An opening night selection at this year’s Sundance, ‘Little Richard: I Am Everything’ is an origin story with extreme admiration.

It also illustrates just how far ahead of his time that Little Richard was. He broke stereotypes, gender norms, and the lines of segregation.

Sadly, Little Richard’s own internal conflicts about his queerness and his religious beliefs caused incredible turmoil.

The Verdict

Cortés uses a wealth of archival footage and interviews with the man himself to take us from his youth in Macon, Georgia, to early performances in segregated clubs. We go from him opening up for the Beatles to the endless parade of television interviews in the 80s and 90s. A wide variety of talking heads appear, including Nile Rodgers, Mick Jagger, Billy Porter, and John Waters.

In the early days of his career, public venues were forcefully segregated, but nothing could stop the radio waves playing Black artists from drifting into the ears of White teenagers. And they loved what they heard.

It’s hard to imagine the battles this phenomenal entertainer held within. His family roots and strong belief in God at the time were in stark conflict with his sexuality. The man’s flamboyance could not be hidden or tamed, but he would publicly renounce his identity in a depressingly contradictory way.

Whether it was boogie-woogie or gospel, Little Richard always gave the stage his all. This documentary is a marvelous way to learn more about him and honor his legacy.

Grade: B+

How to Watch ‘Little Richard: I Am Everything’

‘Little Richard: I Am Everything’ is now available to buy or rent from all digital providers. Co-produced by CNN Films and Rolling Stone Films, it will premiere on CNN later this year before heading to HBO Max for streaming.

Looking for more movie recommendations? Check out our April streaming preview!

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