“Little Richard: I Am Everything”


Metacritic (9/10), Letterboxd (4.5/5), Imdb.com (9/10), TMDB.com (4.5/5)

Sometimes it takes a movie to help set the record straight. And, when it comes to designating who truly is the king of rock ’n roll, this documentary from director Lisa Cortes does just that. Richard Wayne Penniman – professionally known as Little Richard (1932-2020) – burst onto the pop music scene in the mid-1950s with a singular, unrestrained, high-energy style that set him apart from other aspiring performers at the time, achieving tremendous success with hits like “Tutti Fruitti” and “Long Tall Sally,” among others. However, even though he developed a strong following and a reputation for chart-busting releases, he never quite attained the widespread notoriety of others, like Elvis Presley and Pat Boone, particularly when they covered his hits. He also didn’t achieve the financial success that he deserved, thanks to record labels that gave him raw deals. What’s more, as a flamboyant, openly gay Black musician at a time when those qualities were far from well tolerated, he became a target for ostracism and scorn from conservative circles, whose leaders spouted inflammatory claims that he was undermining the moral fabric of traditional American culture with his “decadent” music and “perverted” lifestyle. Yet his blend of colorful performances, mixed with outlandish costumes, pancake makeup and frenetic stage antics and backed by tunes that fused boogie woogie, rhythm & blues and gospel, made him a standout, a style that countless artists drew from – and openly acknowledged his influence – when they emerged in their own right, many of whom are interviewed in the film in archive footage or recent conversations. The result here is a revelatory examination of someone who set a standard but who never received the degree of recognition he merited until many years after his debut on the music scene. “Little Richard: I Am Everything” features a wealth of historical footage, including many interviews with the artist himself, along with observations from the likes of Mick Jagger, Billy Porter, Paul McCartney, Tom Jones, Nona Hendryx and superfan filmmaker John Watters, as well as an array of music industry, African-American and gay community historians. Viewers are likely to come away from this offering knowing a lot about Little Richard that they hadn’t known previously, enabling them to gain a new appreciation for the rock icon and learning much about the many triumphs and challenges he faced during his colorfully enigmatic life. Audiences are sure to come away from this one proclaiming “Long live rock – and the king who finally gets to wear his much-deserved crown.”