|Tessa Thompson and Lakeith Stanfield|
By Dawn Washington
Sorry to Bother You is Spike Lee’s Bamboozled, Jordan Peele’s Get Out, and Childish Gambino’s music video, This is America, with a little bit of Michael Jackson’s Thriller sprinkled at the end. That said, there is a lot going on in the Boots Riley film about a Black man, Cassius Green (LaKeith Stanfield), who goes from broke to not woke. From political commentary showing up in Detroit’s (Tessa Thompson) earrings, to dubbed over-puppetry, to a TV/ reality show literally entitled “Get the Shit Kicked Out of You,” this independent dark comedy is throwing the whole kitchen sink (or Coke can) at us in terms of messages. And then there are the equisapians…don’t ask.
If chaotic, disturbing, artsy, and absurd satire is your thing, the film definitely has some highlights!
Steven Yeun (Squeeze) – it’s rare that we see a Korean American play an activist/leader revolting against an oppressive system on screen. Even rarer is a Korean American man cast as the love interest of a Black woman. But let me tell you, both work quite well in Sorry to Bother You, so much so that I was rooting for Detroit to get it in with Squeeze. Yeun in the role of Squeeze is also a reminder that Asians have been neighbors to the marginalized experiences of Black and Brown communities, particularly in large cities like LA where this film was shot. The movie also demonstrates some of the mad breakdancing skills one can find in those Asian hoods.
A Feminist Cry– Sorry to Bother You takes a surprise turn when it spotlights a feminist message halfway through the film. But I guess any movie about exploitation would be remiss to omit the struggle of women, especially at such a time as this in our country. I think the satirical tone of the movie shines best at this moment when a powerful yet absurd missive about how women have been violently used and abused is artistically (and effectively) displayed on Detroit’s body.
“Nigga Shit”– Lastly, there is a scene near the climax of the film that nicely sums up both the spectacle and the myth of Black otherness. As the CEO of the company (Armie Hammer) singles out Cassius at a party and rallies him to perform a freestyle rap to the mostly white crowd, Cassius nervously throws out the most nonsensical lyrics, so crazy and so germane to undying Black stereotypes that the crowd ironically eats it up.
Even though Sorry to Bother You is not my cup of tea, I can appreciate its commentary on the economic system that rules our nation (and our lives). The movie’s dismal warning is blaring: whether it is a CEO who is trying to maintain his wealthy and powerful lifestyle or a Black man trying to move out his uncle’s garage, the destructive system of American capitalism can enslave us all and turn us into exploitative monsters if we are not careful.
Dawn has a Master of Arts in Media and Cinema Studies and holds down a day job in academia. She is a freelance writer from Chicago who has written for The Chicago Defender, NBC5 Chicago, and Caramel Lattes and Stilettos. Read more of her writing here.