Director Lisa Cortes discusses Little Richard I Am Everything

Director Lisa Cortés discusses Little Richard: I Am Everything

July 25, 2023 An Special Projects Documentary Series Screening

“Rock n’ roll is the American idiom, our most enduring export, the lifeblood of our pop music,” said Director Lisa Cortés in the notes for her new documentary feature, Little Richard: I Am Everything. “It’s also our cultural war zone, from the scandal of Elvis’s pelvis to outrage over Lizzo playing James Madison’s flute. Without Little Richard, would Lizzo exist? Would Lil Nas X? Would the Rolling Stones?”

Cortés film explodes the whitewashed canon of American pop music to tell the story of the Black queer origins of rock n’ roll and reveal the innovator – the originator – Richard Wayne Penniman. Unspooling the icon’s complicated life story via interviews with family, musicians, and Black and queer scholars, the film reveals how Penniman created an art form for ultimate self-expression, yet what he gave to the world he was never able to give to himself. The world tried to put him in a box, but Little Richard was an omni being who contained multitudes – he was unabashedly everything.

On July 25, following the DGA Special Projects Documentary Series screening in Los Angeles, Cortés sat down with Documentary Series Subcommittee Chair Ondi Timoner (Mapplethorpe) to discuss the making of the film.

During the conversation, Cortés spoke about combining archival footage with mystical graphics to depict Little Richard’s life and music career. “When we took it out and pitched, I said ‘I want to have dreamscapes.’ I think we’re all trying to find a way to find different portals to express this wild rollercoaster that he goes on. And so, there’s chronology, but what was really important was centering his voice. So much of his life he’s looking for agency and I was like ‘Richard, you’re going to tell your story.’ We started the film after he passed away in the spring of 2020. But, in honoring him, I thought it was necessary at the very beginning to find all of the archival of him narrating his story from cradle to grave. So, that was a part of the structure. Then, my love of magic realism and these dreamscapes, like let’s have these seminal moments in his life. That is something that we’re continuously revisiting in the film because there’s something about Richard that’s so essential and – as you see in the montage at the end – has benefited so many artists who incorporate and then of course then make it their own, but still, he’s a part of what they are using in their performance.”

Cortés’s other directorial credits include the documentary features, The Space Race, All In: The Fight for Democracy, The Remix: Hip Hop X Fashion and the upcoming The Empire of Ebony. She has been a DGA member since 2019.


Q&A photos by Shane Karns – Print courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

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