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Film Review: Sorry to Bother You

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I remember when my brothers used to preach to me when we debated current tax policies. They would say, “You can’t help the situation you’re born into, it’s the hand you’ve been dealt.” This phrase would be a lifelong lesson as I tried to climb through the ranks of an organization. Another observation I’ve been fascinated with is the urban acculturation of migrants. Africans and other people of color have migrated, voluntarily or involuntarily, to America with their collectivist village ideals. Yet growing up in America’s individualistic society, one has to push for personal success to be able to survive. Boots Riley’s Sorry to Bother You provides a visual perspective of this struggle. How does one achieve personal success without having to feel like a sellout? Does your identity hinder you from pushing yourself to separate you from the rest of your…village?

Riley’s writing and directing showcases many of the unspoken strategies that people of color use to conform to corporate work environments. An example is talking with a “White” voice as a form of communication where you seem more friendly as a telemarketer as opposed to sounding too “street”. The film opens with our protagonist struggling financially in what we foresee as a “rags to riches” story about working your way up the corporate ladder until it gets flipped on us. Riley’s work is driven by the old adage that “money can’t buy you happiness”. To achieve success begs the question, how much of your identity can you tolerate losing before you’re unrecognizable to those who were with you at the ground floor? In many respects, this film feels like American Beauty where wealth and materialism dominate values more than the grass roots cause. 

Get Out actor Lakeith Stanfield is solid as the lead, especially in showing the uncertainty of protest. He does a good job of leading audiences down the “rags to riches” path. Stanfield handles the transformation in the discovery that there are riches in the rags like identity and the approach to struggle without selling out. The humiliation you’re subjected to is vivid, not just from Stanfield’s performance, but through the lens that Riley provides us. Tessa Thompson steals every scene like a magnetic siren to your eyes and ears. The Walking Dead’s Steven Yuen proves that he’s much more versatile than his Glenn character. The addition of Terry Crews and Danny Glover are funny and subtle enough not to distract from the film’s driving message. The Social Network standout Armie Hammer is brilliant as the film’s antagonist. You’re interested in seeing more of his character on screen while despising him at the same time.

Overall, Boots Riley promulgates a discussion about how maintaining one’s identity in the acculturation process is vital to your overall personal success. Riley manages to inject clever camera tricks in handling the telemarketing, as well as providing geeky references to The Last Dragon. For a person of color who can handle the mature content, this is a must watch. For the person who was fortunate enough to be dealt a great hand in life, this film should help you be more mindful of how social conformity has an adverse effect on the acculturation process in our society. Understand who we are…especially in a world when two Black men walk into a Starbucks.

…and I’m out.

Grade: A+

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