Editor’s Note: “Little Richard: I Am Everything” will premiere Monday, September 4 at 9pm ET/PT on CNN.
Little Richard lived a vibrant life.
The late rock and roll legend struggled with being a queer Black man in the Jim Crow era South and failed to earn the recognition he believed he deserved as one of the architects of the music genre with hits like “Good Golly Miss Molly.” The new CNN Film “Little Richard: I Am Everything” explores the late singer’s complexities and contributions.
Filmmaker Lisa Cortés, who earned praise for her documentary about voter suppression and the work of former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams in “All In: The Fight for Democracy,” is also the director of “Little Richard: I Am Everything.”
“He goes on this roller coaster ride and what I think is tragic is that he is not able to contain all of the multitudes of who he is,” Cortés, an Oscar nominated and Emmy-winning director, told CNN. “When he’s at his most authentic self, that’s when he’s closest to God.”
Born Richard Wayne Penniman in Macon, Georgia, the star found himself at points in his life torn between his sexuality and the Christian beliefs in which he was raised.
Cortés sees a lesson for us all in Little Richard’s life.
“I think it is so important for people not to negate who they are and to remember if they believe in God that there is a God who loves us for being our authentic selves,” she said. “He is all-loving and all-encompassing. And I think that is ultimately what I take from Richard’s journey. Life is not lived in opposition. It’s lived in the unity of everything that makes you beautifully human.”
That humanity is on full display in “Little Richard: I Am Everything.”
The documentary premiered to critical acclaim at the Sundance Film Festival this year. Using archival footage as well as stories from those who knew the artist best, the film also features fellow artists like Mick Jagger and “Pose” star Billy Porter weighing in on Little Richard’s influence.
Cortés told CNN that there wasn’t anyone whose voice she wanted in the film that wasn’t included.
“The film that I pitched is a film that I made,” she said.
And while the singer known for hyperbole perhaps wasn’t the most reliable when it came to telling his own story, the filmmaker allows him to have his say in the movie.
Little Richard died from bone cancer in 2020, but Cortés believes he would have been pleased with her documentary had he lived to see it.
“I have been told by people who were very close to him that he would have greatly enjoyed the film because it tells his truth in his words,” she said.
“I think he sets forth this ability that we take for granted now, to be a guy and walk down the street in a skirt and to love who you want to love,” Cortés said. “Even though Richard was not able to enjoy these freedoms, I think that he was a great catalyst for the cultural change that we live in the midst of now.”