Little Richard is widely considered one of the most influential figures in 20th century popular music. A new documentary takes a deep dive into his complicated feelings about his own queer sexuality.
Through a wealth of archive and performance that brings us into Richard’s complicated inner world, the film unspools the icon’s life story with all its switchbacks and contradictions. In interviews with family, musicians, and cutting-edge Black and queer scholars, the film reveals how Richard created an art form for ultimate self-expression, yet what he gave to the world he was never able to give to himself. Throughout his life, Richard careened like a shiny cracked pinball between God, sex and rock n’ roll. The world tried to put him in a box, but Richard was an omni being who contained multitudes – he was unabashedly everything.
Directed by Lisa Cortés, the film includes interviews with Billy Porter, John Waters, Mick Jagger, and Tom Jones, among many others.
Little Richard broke on the scene with a series of 1950s hits, starting with “Tutti Frutti::
Considered The Architect of Rock n’ Roll, Little Richards work was central to racial integration in popular American culture. White artists like Elvis and Pat Boone covered his songs, making more than he did for his original version. The image at the top of this article is from a 1972 BBC interview for the show Late Night Line-Up. It’s worth watching in its entirety to understand better how we got to our current queer moment in pop culture.
Fun fact: there’s a post office near World of Wonder HQ, and I used to mail a lot of physical media from there. Every now and then, Little Richard would drive by in the back of his limo with the window down and shout out the window at someone walking down the street: complimenting their look or some funny observation. It was kind of like a UFO sighting – I saw him twice in the area over about 15 years.
Following special theatrical screenings on April 11, the film will be available April 21 both digitally and in additional theaters.
Images: YouTube / Magnolia Pictures & Magnet Releasing (2023)
Look Press Agency/Look Press / Avalon (2000)