'Sorry To Bother You': Rapper Boots Riley's Afrofuturist directorial debut tackles race, anti-capitalism and white privilege
Lakeith Stanfield of Get Out (2017) fame plays Cassius Green (Cash is Green, get it?), an aimless millennial living in his uncle's (Terry Crews) garage with his conceptual artivist girlfriend Detroit (gloriously played a pink-haired Tessa Thompson). At the outset of the film, he interviews for a job at a telemarketing firm with forged trophies and a fake reference, but he eventually gets it because it's that one job that apparently anyone can get hired for.
Working in a dingy periwinkle-hued basement, Green misses the mark at first. His desk physically drops into the homes of the people he's calling, occaisionally interrupting their love-making session. It is only when his desk neighbour Langston (Danny Glover) suggests that he uses his "white voice" (nasally voiced by comedian David Cross) that he manages to close deals and get promoted to the upper echleons of the company.
He quickly finds out that he's working for WorryFree, a slave-labour manufacturing firm that has been fraudulently marketed as a trendy lifestyle community led by cocaine-snorting CEO Steve Lift (Armie Hammer). It's capitalist ambitions and his new promotion become problematic for his relationship with Detroit and his former colleagues who band together to protest for better workplace welfare.
Like salt on a steak, there is a heavy seasoning of wacky commentary throughout the narrative: from a violent reality show called I Got The Shit Kicked Out Of Me where over 150 million people tune in to watch a woman getting punched in the nose repeatedly to a tirade on the instiable digital media landscape. This might be rapper Boots Riley's directorial debut but it's progressive, radical and coherent storytelling is masterful and a joy to watch, even when something as absurd as a secret race of well-endowed horsepeople enters the narrative.
Sorry to Bother You has drawn comparisons with Jordan Peele's Get Out, and there might be some similarities between them. Both are great black films that interrogate race with a critical conscience. However, in today's zany Trump-era dissonance, Riley's heady satire on an Afrofuturistic urban dystopia seems louder, smarter and more disturbingly woke.