Last August Boots Riley, the American rapper and activist, caused controversy by launching a blistering attack on Spike Lee’s blockbusting film BlacKKKlansman. Riley’s criticism revolved around whether police officers should be portrayed as allies in the fight against racism. For Riley, Ron Stallworth (BlacKKKlansman’s protagonist) “is the villain”.
Sorry to Bother You, Riley’s big screen debut as writer and director, is a blistering critique of US society — racist, sexist and capitalist to the core. Featuring Lakeith Stanfield (previously seen in Atlanta and Get Out), the brilliant Tessa Thompson and Terry Crews, the film’s plot pivots around a strike at a telecommunications company in Downtown Oakland, California.
Stanfield’s character, a broke twenty-something who sleeps in his uncle’s garage, finds the secret of how to make money — making telesales by using his “white voice”. His success draws him into a dizzying yet sinister world of mega-money, where nobody is bothered about the impact of what they sell, just how much commission they make.
Meanwhile, his former colleagues organise and strike against bullying management. Stanfield is forced into a choice between making money or joining the picket lines.
The film is visually exciting and the plot takes unexpected twists and turns. There are moments in the cinematography or script that point to the fact that this is Riley’s screen debut.
However, the film boldly picks up the baton of radical anti-liberal US film which was carried into the mainstream by Jordan Peele’s 2017 film Get Out.
Sorry to Bother You will make you laugh. It will make you cheer. And it will anger both conservatives and liberals.
The film is a brilliant snapshot of America in 2018 — growing class conflict and resistance in the face of racism.