The biting social commentary of “Sorry to Bother You” makes it a must-watch for 2018.
“Sorry to Bother You” is the directorial debut of hip-hop artist Boots Riley, who describes the film as an “absurdist dark comedy with magical realism and science fiction, inspired by the world of telemarketing.” The film follows Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield), a down-and-out Black Oakland native who finds a job in telemarketing. He doesn’t take to it, at first, and is rejected by every call he makes. His bosses stress the importance of his sticking to the script on calls — and try as he might, he is still unsuccessful.
Eventually, he is taught by an older employee, Langston (Danny Glover), to use his “white voice” (dubbed by David Cross). The older employee describes it as being the voice white people wish they had, and not the one they truly do — representing the fragility of white identity through telemarketing. Cassius gives the “white voice” a try and becomes an overnight telemarketing success.
While Cassius’s usage of the “white voice” skyrockets him to the upper echelon of the telemarketing firm, his friends and coworkers organize a strike to demand higher wages, better working conditions and a union. His girlfriend Detroit (Tessa Thompson) and coworker Squeeze (Steven Yeun) are radicals at the forefront of the movement to unionize and are suspicious of Cassius’s sudden success. All the while, a larger-than-life company pushes the boundaries of labor exploitation to its limits. Cassius is forced to make a choice: climb the ladder of success to the detriment of his coworkers, or decry the “white voice” and join the fight?
With class divisions in the United States (and globally) getting wider and wider, this movie couldn’t have come at a more crucial time. The World Inequality Report 2018 shows that in the United States, the poorest 50 percent have had their income slowly decline over the past 36 years, while the top 1 percent has only gotten richer. Union membership has declined steadily from the 1980s to now, mega-corporations like Amazon are under fire for the poor treatment of their workers. Additionally, at the time of writing, a nationwide prison strike rages on, demanding an end to prisoners’ (disproportionately Black) unpaid labor.
Like Cassius, all of us have a choice to make. Will we fight against the structures which chain us down, or will we continue down the path of least resistance, aiming only to secure our own financial success? Riley’s “Sorry to Bother You” makes an excellent case for the former and harshly condemns the latter.
“Sorry to Bother You” is a sorely needed commentary on the intersections between class, class warfare and race. While other science fiction films tend to shy away from such apparent and robust analysis of the contradictions of capitalism, Riley unabashedly illustrates what happens when socioeconomic classes clash and the true repercussions of ruthlessly chasing class mobility. Riley’s film takes his description of the exploitation of the proletariat’s labor to the extreme, giving the audience a monstrous mirror of their own lives as working-class people. The world of “Sorry to Bother You,” intended as a satirical dystopia, is not all that unlike our own, and that should bother us.