LITTLE RICHARD: I AM EVERYTHING -- A Musical Documentary That Breaks Expectations, Much Like Its Subject Did for Music
Review by Jonathan Berk
Little Richard: I Am Everything delivers great archival footage, talking head interviews, tribute performances, and tons of information about the musical genius who was Little Richard. Director Lisa Cortés has crafted a tremendous documentary, both in its depiction of its subject and the look of the film. Those who are only familiar with a few iconic songs of this incredible performance will likely learn a lot about the man who is finally truly recognized for his role in music history.
The talking heads in this documentary range are used expertly and feature some pretty big celebrities, including Mick Jagger, Billy Porter, and John Waters. Some interviews give Richard more historical context, while others offer their experience as a friend or fan of the iconic performer. The content these interviews deliver is intercut with archival footage and images that include tons of performances and TV interviews. Together, this paints a full portrait of the influence Little Richard had on the world and the many struggles he encountered over the years.
Being a queer man of color offered plenty of pushback at the time Little Richard earned his place in the industry. His music pushed up against the accepted style of the time. The fact that his music appealed to white and black teens and encouraged them to break the rules at venues designed to be segregated only made him more of a target. At one point in the documentary, you hear Little Richard say, “My music broke down the walls of segregation,” and which may sound hyperbolic, it seems true.
While all these moments and stories are compelling, it is Richard’s internal struggle that makes his story stand out. Richard struggled with his faith and queerness on a public scale, even announcing he was straight on a late-night talk show. This change in his lifestyle had negative repercussions on the community and the people who looked to Richard to be a leader of it. This feels particularly poignant at a time when bigotry towards the LGBTQ+ community is again at a high. Though it tackles some tough conversations, it does brush over a moment when it is revealed a long-time love interest, Lee Angel, was only 16 when she started a relationship with Richard.
Whether you love his music or agree with his often changing perspectives on sexuality, religion, or life in general, it is unlikely you won’t find Little Richard: I Am Everything a worthwhile watch. The films pacing and storytelling keep the audience engaged, while informing them about a relevant historical figure. I grew up thinking of Little Richard as more of a joke who sang "Itsy Bitsy Spider" on the Disney Channel. As I got older, I realized I maybe undervalued him as a musician. It wasn’t until this film that I realized how much I didn’t know about his influence.
Little Richard: I Am Everything will be in theaters and on-demand April 21