I struggled even wanting to watch “Little Richard: I Am Everything,” because my mind was at full-stop when I heard he said, “I’m not homosexual. I don’t go in that door.”
It’s what we do, I think, when we hear something that we consider betrayal. We knew he was gay. And to hear him get on national television and say, “But God, Jesus, he made men, men, he made women, women, you know? And you’ve got to live the way God wants you to live.” Not to mention, “You know, all these things. So much unnatural affection. So much of people just doing everything and don’t think about God. Don’t want no parts of him,”
And the trite, “God made Adam to be with Eve — not Steve.”
I’ve always considered him the king of Rock and Roll. Elvis was a coattail rider, as were so many others, many of whom had deep connections with him. But to me, as a gay man, as an activist for our community, the betrayal was riddled with bile. It tainted everything I thought of him.
“Little Richard: I Am Everything” brought more depth and context to his life and helped me understand and appreciate what I should have already known: a life in the 1930s, 40s, 50s, from an ultra-religious upbringing in Macon, Georgia, being Black in an industry run by whites, and being gay at a time when such love dared not speak its name.
In other words, he was a human living in difficult times in an environment that worked against him at every turn.
Richard Wayne Penniman was a complex human being. The interviews of people from his life and queer celebrities and historians touched by him gave depth to his story that may never have been told before.
Lisa Cortés directed a film that flowed easily through his life, through the changes in his life, through the reasons for the changes in his life.
“As an artist and a filmmaker, Little Richard inspired me to color outside the lines and to give voice to all those who were too bold, too Black, or too queer.” Cortés said in an interview. “The film explodes the white-washed history of Rock and Roll and shines a light on the originator.”
“Little Richard careened like a shining black pinball between god, sex, and Rock and Roll,” Cortés continued. “I hope the film inspires you to get up and dance, put on some feathers and sequins, and, most importantly, to live boldly and beautifully.”
It inspired me to give depth to my understanding of his life.