Paying homage vs Stealing: The Elvis Presley story

So, a few days ago I noticed that HBO Max started streaming the new Elvis biopic featuring Austin Butler as Elvis, Tom Hanks as Colonel Tom Parker and directed and produced by Baz Luhrman. I had originally wanted to see this movie in theaters but never got around to it, so I was definitely excited when I saw that HBO Max already had it on its streaming service after about a month. Elvis is such an American cultural icon and this movie paid great respect to Presley’s legacy, but I also feel as a black American a mix of emotions because of course there has always been rumors about the legitimacy of Elvis’ fame. Did he really deserve his fame off the backs of black people where a lot of the songs he made famous came from black people originally. For example, the song “Hound Dog” was originally sung by black musician Big Mama Thornton. I will admit that the film did explore this gray area of Presley’s fame somewhat. We had scenes of Elvis (Butler) hanging out on Beale Street in Memphis, TN with legends like B.B. King, Little Richard, and Big Mama Thornton. Again, there’s a scene where Elvis is watching Little Richard perform “Tootie Frootie” for the first time and he’s fascinated by how Little Richard moves his body on stage and he’s also in love with the song and confides in B.B. King that he would love to record that song and B.B. King tells Elvis a candid truth. He says to him that he (Elvis) would make a lot more money of that song than Little Richard could ever dream of making basically because Elvis is a white man. I’m not sure how factual the movie is and how much had to be fabricated, but the film also takes time to show how Elvis was influenced by blues and gospel and when he was rising to fame a lot of white people hated him because he was seen as a “Negro lover” and he was making black music while moving his hips in a “seductive way” inciting lustful thoughts and intentions. His hip shaking was even considered to be too black. All in all, I really did enjoy this film despite the mixed emotions with Elvis’ fame. The acting was superb, the costumes, set design, and the production was top notch.

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