sorry to bother you red band trailer

“An economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market.”

Boots Riley’s film Sorry To Bother You is a film people have been buzzing about for a while, for a good reason. It is a fun comedy steeped in magical realism, with fantastic acting and brilliant cinematography, a film that shouldn’t be missed in theaters. But Boots Riley’s film is also an anti-capitalist love-letter, and we definitely need to talk about that.

Riley (an activist and a musician before he turned to filmmaking) has always been forthcoming with his anti-capitalist beliefs, and it would only be fitting that the themes of his directorial debut reflect that. Sorry To Bother You takes place in an alternate version of Oakland, California. We follow Cassius Green, better known as Cash, as he begins his new job at Regel View as a telemarketer. He soon finds out he has a gift when he is told by Langston (Danny Glover) to use his “white voice” to improve his sales. It works, and Cash quickly rises through the ranks and becomes one of the coveted “Power Callers.” The film follows Cash at his lowest lows and takes us to his highest highs.

The commentary on capitalism plays a significant role in Sorry To Bother You. Cash is at the bottom when we first meet him. Living in his uncle’s garage, unable to pay rent, and driving a car on the verge of explosion with 15 cents worth of gas in the tank, Cash is in need of a come-up. He finds out his Uncle is on the verge of losing his house and is considering joining a company called Worry-Free. Worry-Free is a place where, in exchange for indentured servitude, people will no longer have to worry about rent, bills, or even grocery costs. They essentially become slaves for a corporation that doesn’t believe in paying its workers.

To help his uncle from losing his house and possible freedom, Cash goes into Regel View and lies in an attempt to get the job. When he is found out, he is not punished, but rewarded for his sleazy methods and gets the gig. He immediately sets his eyes on becoming a “Power Caller” by utilizing the same “by any means necessary” attitude to work his way to the top. Riley comments on how the capitalist system is geared to reward not the honest hard-working people like Cash’s uncle, but people like Cash, who lie and try to manipulate the system to make their way to the top.

Cash’s eventual success is entirely built on lies and his “white voice” is the pinnacle of the lie. Code-switching is something people of color often have to resort to because of the innate racism of society. The less a person of color sounds ethnic, the more likely they will be able to gain access to the service they want. However, in Cash’s situation, the “white voice” takes him to the top of his career. As a Power Caller, he is expected to speak in the voice regularly and slowly throughout the movie, he loses himself within that voice, no longer using it as a means to get by, but adopting it as part of his personality. Cash begins to forsake his friends, his beliefs, and even himself. All to make more money.

At one point in the film, you can’t help but think “Can You blame him?” He helps his uncle out of poverty, saves his house, moves to a swanky apartment in San Francisco, and creates a better life for himself. Boots Riley navigates this moment perfectly: Cash may have lifted himself out of poverty, but we discover that Power Callers sell weapons of war and indentured servitude. Cash’s new capitalist ideals are not without harm; he has thrown other people under the bus to gain his success.

Cash’s best friend played (Jermaine Fowler) and girlfriend (Tessa Thompson) work in the lower echelon of the company. Led by Squeeze (Steve Yeun), they decide to protest and picket Regal Views policies, and demand fair wages and benefits for all. This goes against Cash’s plan of moving up within the corporate structure, so he takes his “by any means necessary attitude” and becomes the enemy that his friends are fighting.

Riley utilizes cinematography and color to show how grim Cash’s world becomes once he buys into capitalism. At the beginning of the film, when Cash is out with his friends and driving around in his lemon of a car, the frame is painted with vivid and bright colors. Reds, purples, blues, dance across the faces of all the characters, evoking a lively and happy atmosphere. Then as Cash makes more money and works his way up the ranks, we see him go to a corporate party. All the color is sucked out of the room, all we are left with is a desaturated space, where there isn’t a smile or an ounce of color to be seen.

Even though Cash has no money and is living in abject poverty, his life is filled with moments of genuine happiness and love. When in low-income situations, everything is copacetic – it’s only when Cash is surrounded by wealth that his life, and the frame of the film, is dark, sinful, and generally uncomfortable. When he becomes financially stable and has the job of his dreams, his world becomes drab, he finds himself surrounded by fake friends, and he becomes more and more unhappy.

Sorry To Bother You is indeed the voice of Boots Riley: the movie is a commentary on the disparity of how wealth is distributed in this country and how the rich become wealthier on the backs of honest people. Cash’s journey is the anti-hero’s journey – from desperation, he dives at a chance to sell his soul for a better life within a system that has kept him from doing otherwise. Sorry To Bother You is a radical examination of Capitalism is antiquated and a dire warning. Otherwise, our world might start to look more like the alternate one presented in Riley’s film.

***

Sorry To Bother You is expands nationwide today.

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