Updated: Nov 19, 2018
SORRY TO BOTHER YOU (2018) Cast: Lakeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson, Steven Yeun, Danny Glover, Terry Crews, Steve Lift
Director: Boots Riley
On days like this when the Air Quality Index (AQI) in Oakland is close over 200 due to a devastating wild fire perpetuated by human activity and climate change, there is nothing better to do when you are cooped up indoors than to finally write that film review on one of the best movies of the year - "Sorry To Bother You". And yes, its from Oakland. I can still remember the first time I saw it. The corner of Grand and Lake Park Avenue was packed with a beautiful melange of excited moviegoers waiting in line for the multi-screen opening night premier and Q+A at the Grand Lake Theater for "Sorry To Bother You".
Written and directed by one of Oakland’s very own - Boots Riley, "Sorry To Bother You" is an unapologetically brilliant surreal dystopian sci-fi comedy that succeeds in taking its audience on wildly creative political analysis of race, labor and capitalism through the story of budding telemarketer Cassius “Cash” Green (Lakeith Stanfield).
So a little about the film. Cassius is a smart young black man struggling to survive and is paying rent to live in his uncle's garage. His economic circumstances look grim, though he's not down for the count. Alongside Cassius, is his beautiful free-spirited performance artist-activist girlfriend, Detroit (Tessa Thompson), who flips signs for companies to make money and enjoys visually embodying her politics and ideologies through her fashion and art. When Cassius lands a job at a telemarketing company - RegalView, by promising to happily arrive to work everyday and sticking to the script, it seems that his fortunes begin to turn for the better. Together with Detroit and his best friend Salvador who joins Cassius to work at RegalView, the group journeys into the world of telemarketing. But success does not come easy, and Cassius begins to feel “incompetent” at his job until his co-worker Langston (Danny Glover) teaches him the power of using the hypnotically ironic magic of the “white voice”. Once he learns how to code-switch effectively, we see Cassius begin to soar through the ranks at work to become top caller. Conflict ensues between Cassius and his other co-workers, including Detroit, when his co-workers decide to unionize and go on strike to fight for fair living wages. With RegalView's management dangling the prestigious “Power-Caller” carrot in front of him, Cash is pressured with the need to make money to help save his uncle's home, and staying loyal to the fight for fair wages with his fellow co-workers. What happens from here is a rollercoaster ride into the craziness of late stage capitalism that is a must watch! So cop the digital download on Amazon (released Oct. 9, 2018), get a potluck going, and watch it with as many of your family and friends during this "Thangs Taken" season (for those who don't know, its a phrase coined to re-think Thanksgiving). Be prepared to be unprepared for whats to come. Its gonna be a wild ride!
While the film is highly inventive, fresh, and succeeds to please on so many levels, I personally appreciate the many ways Riley’s characters shine through and find grounding despite their day-to-day struggles with poverty, gentrification, racism, economic injustice, and big business at its wackest form. Whether it’s through authentic relationships and support for each other, creativity and self-expression, being in community or organizing the power of the people, Riley’s characters aren't afraid to consciously fight the injustices impacting their lives unapologetically. Riley’s excellent character development provided dynamic and unconventional (in the mainstream media, though we out here in Oakland) portrayals of POC people doing extraordinary things in the ordinary. Most of the main characters peaked my curiosity and found ways to take me into their world with their wit, charisma, vulnerability, eccentricity and determination. The intelligently crafted dialogue and exaggerated jokes, costumes, wardrobe and set design successfully breathed life into each character’s uniquely dynamic personality and journey towards higher purpose.
As a woman of color artist-activist living in Oakland, these characters hit home and I felt that their experiences where not only authentic to the film, but closely reflected the struggles and triumphs of Oakland's POC creative working class. The health of a city is impacted by the health of its people. And Oakland's POC creative working class understand their role in cultivating health through their creativity and the healing that manifests from their work they share the world. This is not limited to creating "art", but also through being involved in the activities that heal the land and offer support to others in the community. There is a desire here to want more for Oakland, to want more for ourselves, our families and our community. But this desire for "more" doesn't come from the typical Capitalist play book, but rather, is rooted in social and environmental justice. This is embodied individually and collectively, and Oaklander's have highly creative ways to express that.
Overall, aside from being freakin' hilarious, "Sorry To Bother You" is timely and relevant. The film's critical and creative depiction of the hypocrisy and absurdities of late stage capitalism is just the dose of "reality" that mainstream media needs. "Sorry To Bother You" deals with these modern day late capital issues in society and breaks its characters out of the stereotypes that pigeon hole them into specific roles or polarized ideations of people in society. By doing this, Riley's dynamic characters are also able to break them out of the matrix that was trying to keep them stagnant in their struggles, and ultimately leads them to finding the strength within to tap into a deeper purpose that could shift the balance towards something greater for themselves and their community.
This is parallel to what is needed in our country today. To overcome the social and environmental injustices caused by the insatiable greed that capitalism nurtures, we need to not only question and understand the root causes of why this system is not sustainable, but collectively do something about it. The time of transition into a more just world is now. Just look outside of your bubble - its going to burst sooner or later. The hard truth is, the future of our planet and the generations to come are depending on us to change the course of our destructive ways. To do this, we must find a way to come together and unite on the cause of cultivating a more equitable, just and sustainable world that respects and support of life in this planet all its forms.
Written by Jo "love/speak" Cruz