Another film that I have been meaning to see since its release, Sorry to Bother You is a brilliant study of capitalism in modern day America. Written and directed by Boots Riley in a fantastic debut, we follow Cassius “Cash” Green (Lakeith Stanfield) as he starts a career in RegalView, a telemarketing centre and his rise to the top after using his “white voice” to appeal to white middle-class America. His friends at RegalView, Squeeze (Steven Yeun) and Salvador (Jermaine Fowler) start a union to get basic benefits as the workers only receive commission. Cash quickly becomes a “Power Caller” and is taken to the top floor where he is tasked with selling slave labour on behalf of corrupt company, WorryFree, to large corporations around the world. In a society where money talks, we see Cash’s struggle intensify as he has to choose between security and his relationship with his girlfriend, Detroit (Tessa Thompson). The film flits between genres flawlessly, drifting from comedy to drama to science-fiction in a matter of seconds. It’s refusal to slot into a specific box and the ability to feel relevant shows Riley’s talent for screenwriting. There is so much going on in this film that adds layers and layers of subtext and it’s a testament to the racist and classist struggle that underlies modern society.
First thing to discuss is the direction and script. Despite the film being his directorial debut, Riley brings a film that looks as though he has done this for years. His vision is crystal clear right down to the colours of the doors. The film opens on Cash’s interview at RegalView as he attempts to blag his way to the entry job. He unsuccessful carries out a flamboyant lie which sees him take a huge trophy and employee of the month frame that he had made to make himself seem more impressive. From the get go, Riley establishes Cash as someone who is willing to do what it takes to achieve the American Dream. The capitalist aspect of this film is at the forefront but there are the racist undertones which are made more explicit as Cash finds himself among a rich, white society. Even at the point when he has achieved more than his colleagues on the bottom and top floors, he is still viewed as an outsider.
This brings me onto the cast who all do a brilliant job, particularly Stanfield and Thompson. The chemistry they have is so natural and the audience feels the intensity when the relationship becomes strained. Cash’s conflict with identity and finding a purpose is one that resonates with a lot of people. He doesn’t fit in with any particular group of people and any stereotypes that society has of black people don’t fit at all. Detroit is an artist who is certain of her identity and has a clear view of the world. There is a literal divide for the characters as the morally sound people populate the bottom floor and live for pennies and the corrupt group working upstairs live extremely privileged lifestyles. We see in a matter of seconds Cash’s life shift as the material items are replaced more luxurious goods such as his car. The film’s dynamic editing is quickfire and snappy to portray the large scale changes that money can make. These material items and the apartment Cash buys detaches him further and further away from his friends. He soon begins to use his “white voice” without realising as his work persona starts to take over and change his personality.
The point of view in the film is fairly radical in its ideas and the issues it raises are important. We see a Leftist group attempt to fight a large corporation who deal with trading weaponry and slave labour to other countries. Modern society looks at the history of slavery with disgust and yet those at the top are competing to have a slice of the pie when WorryFree’s plan for slave labour piques the interest of the powerful due to low cost and high productivity. Riley is quick to remind the audiences that the problems society had in the past haven’t truly gone away and that it merely embarks a different and more modern disguise. The idea of the call centre and sticking to the script literally brainwashes its employees and forces them to conform to an ideal that fits a white middle-class America. The Leftist group are made to look wild and are even mocked when they throw cans at the staff who try to enter the building with one particular can hitting Cash and giving him a huge cut on his head throughout the film. The wound becomes symbolic of his betrayal to the cause and the physical and metaphorical damage that has been caused by his willingness to partake in the selling of slave labour.
Overall, this is a very strong film with a clear point of view that is important and relevant. It’s a shame that this didn’t get a wider release as I think this is a film that explores difficult themes in a unique way that pushes boundaries in a similar way that Get Out did.
What did you think of Sorry to Bother You? I’m assuming it’s positive because the film is bloody incredible! Let me know in the comments below!