Midway through the new documentary Little Richard: I Am Everything, actor and singer Billy Porter says something that distills one of the film’s major themes: “In the face of insurmountable challenges, sometimes simply existing is a revolutionary act.” The feature, directed by the multi-hyphenate filmmaker Lisa Cortés, tells the story of one of the great American artists, a global celebrity whose simple existence as a queer Black man was a direct challenge to the status quo. A studied deep dive into the archive, filled with incendiary performances and biographical detail, I Am Everything is also a challenge to pop-music history, and an effort to finally afford Little Richard his place as both a progenitor of rock ’n’ roll and a groundbreaking cultural force unto himself.

Film Comment’s Clinton Krute spoke with Cortés about the contradictory nature of a man who swung between libertine impulses and religious conviction his entire life, how she reads his work and life as a utopian and cosmic project, and her own remarkable and varied career in the entertainment industry.

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