Sundance Film Festival 2023: ‘Little Richard: I Am Everything’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Over the years, Elvis Presley has been known as the King of Rock and Roll. But after watching Little Richard: I Am Everything, you begin to wonder how that title even got passed down to Presley in the first place. Lisa Cortés brought together many wonderful elements to tell the complicated life story of Little Richard. He had many talents, but more importantly, he was filled with love and light. After watching this, you can see where many other artists got their inspiration. Little Richard was a pioneer, and he broke down barriers when America was still segregated. His music brought people together. 

The one thing that Cortés does so well in this documentary is that she completely embodies the spirit of Little Richard. From beautiful vibrant colours to explosive images being edited together to the sparkling dust floating in the air, it felt like he was present. It was nice that she integrated the interviews where Little Richard describes himself and the industry treated a Black queer man in the 50s and early 60s. At times Little Richard was unapologetically himself, and he would help others embrace their identity. There is a reason teenagers loved his music, and it’s because they felt free when listening to it. They felt they could do anything because Little Richard would give them a voice. Even though he was on a high because everyone loved his work, the industry didn’t give him his flowers. 

It was almost hard to watch Little Richard go through all the ups and downs because of personal issues. Many of Little Richard’s changes came when he was terrified of death, so he turned to God. When he changed his persona, he also gave up his queerness and renounced it. For Little Richard to “come out” was hard for him. He grew up when it was hard to be an openly Black queer man in America. He went back and forth, and each time he changed his image. It’s almost as if he kept reinventing himself each time he went down a bad path or started to get scared. No matter how anyone perceived him, he stood his ground and cemented himself in this industry. He was an incredible performer, and the smaller bands (at the time) like ‘The Rolling Stones’ and ‘The Beatles in the early 60s were in awe of the architect of rock and roll. 

Little Richard: I Am Everything is a powerful documentary that highlights the best aspects of Little Richard. He was someone who loved to perform and would often outshine anyone else. He managed to free many people with his music and opened the door for many other artists who openly used their sex appeal with their onstage persona as well. Little Richard had a hard life and got into music because he wanted to help his family financially. He had no idea that he had the power to change music history. He had the voice and the genius to structure a new genre. Lisa Cortés highlighted the unfairness towards Black artists in the industry and how Black music has always been the foundation for other genres. The influence in all parts of life has always been present, and credit is due where credit is due.