If you show the problem but don’t present a solution people just adapt to the problem. This is the advice that activist and telemarketer Squeeze (Steven Yeun) gives a dejected Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield) in the dark comedy Sorry to Bother You. Similar to his central character, director Boots Riley wants to bring attention to a problem in our capitalist society, and he is using the biggest, and at times strangest, megaphone to do it.
In Riley’s debuted film, Cassius is a young man hoping to get out of his current rut. Living in his uncle’s garage and dating Detroit (Tessa Thompson), an artist who works part-time as store sign holder on the corner, he lands a job at a telemarketing company called RegalView. Struggling to make sales at first, Cassius soon finds that his fortunes drastically change when he starts using a “white voice.”
As his fellow co-workers attempt to create a union to fight the substandard wages and lack of benefits, Cassius quickly becomes one of the company’s “Power Callers.” Moving up to the high-profile clients, Cassius garners the attention of the head of the organization, Steve Lift (Armie Hammer), who thinks he might be just the right person to lead a new initiative.
Based on the premise, one might assume that the film is nothing more than a series of gags mocking the nasally way some white people speak. Riley is much smarter than this though. The “white voice” is not really about the sound, but rather the confidence and privilege it represents. Cassius slips so easily in and out of it that his vision and morality become blurred at times.
The more Sorry to Bother You delves into its fantastical elements, Riley’s criticisms of how complicit our current society is becomes strikingly clear. As activist groups like “The Left Eye” take to the streets to decry the WorryFree corporation, a wealthy company that uses prisoners for slave labour, but neatly packages it as “long-term contracts,” most of America’s attention is focused on a popular reality show where contestants are beaten and humiliated on air.
Utilizing moments of surrealism to aid his blistering commentary on race and capitalism, Riley constructs a vibrant and darkly funny tale that will surely make many uncomfortable. Whether he is literally showing how white individuals, even if it is just their voices, are more welcomed in people’s home and lives; or pointing out the numerous assumptions Cassius is subjected to based on his black skin, Riley gives the viewer plenty to think about.
Bold, hilarious, bizarre and wildly original, Sorry to Bother You is a sharp and unforgettable satire.