“I AM RICHARD PRYOR” had its premiere at the SXSW film festival earlier this month and is now available on the Paramount Network. Written and directed by Jesse James Miller, this is the story of the iconic comedian Richard Pryor. A man that was influential to many who consider him a legend. Pryor broke racial and social barriers throughout a career that had its remarkable highs, and its share of lows. This documentary captures the success Pryor achieved and explores the life he led off the stage. A life that was often mired with inner conflict and drug abuse that subsequently ended his life much too short.
Richard Pryor was a man that accomplished so much throughout his career. He was a groundbreaking comedian and a successful actor. He used the racism and poverty he faced in his life to form a brand of comedy that could catch the attention of mass audiences. He was a successful actor with a string of Hollywood films and his pull-no-punch honesty made him a lightning rod for attention both good and bad. Something he embraced with a blunt confidence when the microphone was in his hand. His personal life was a rocky one at times. His family structure was meager with his father being a pimp and his mother a prostitute. But he rose from that to create a career for himself. One that was not as smooth as many would expect. These elements of Richard Pryor and many more were covered in detail throughout this documentary.
The progression of how his life is told is very linear. From his childhood, through his teenage years and the effects his upbringing had on his social outlooks. It continues into the early stages of Pryor’s career and his more acceptable persona to white America in the same mold as the clean-cut Bill Cosby in the 60’s. This film explores the effects this had on Pryor and how it would shape his future career as a comedian that used his platform to speak about the injustices the African American community faced. Archival footage is woven throughout, and it tells the story just as much visually as it does with the commentary. The detail in piecing together this footage with the interview segments is seamless and created a smooth flow of insightful knowledge about this comedic legend.
Something I appreciated about this documentary was the fact it told both the professional and personal sides of Richard Pryor’s life. Complemented by a narrative that didn’t focus simply on either the positive or the negative times he faced. The timeline of information follows the spectrum of Pryor’s life from humble beginnings, to stardom, to his sad and tragic passing. Filling in the events along the way as they happened. Watching this documentary taught me much more about Pryor’s illustrious career and it complemented that with a massive amount of information about the personal dynamics that fueled the motivation to his actions. It was intriguing to learn about this man that was loved by so many yet was often conflicted inside himself. And whether you were a fan of his or not, this piece is as informative as it is fascinating. Making it worth a watch simply to learn more about this complex and influential figure in American history.