Written and directed by Boots Riley, SORRY TO BOTHER YOU (2018) is one of those subversive critiques of capitalism that makes you wonder how it got funded. In the vein of classic satires like IDIOCRACY and NETWORK, SORRY TO BOTHER YOU is surreal and weirdly titillating but with a very powerful, biting message. It’s funny, but so funny (and slyly accurate) it makes you kind of sad.
The film starts with Cassius living with his girlfriend Detroit in his uncle’s garage. He’s tired of living dirt poor and wants to make his mark on the world by doing something that matters. He wants to feel powerful, in control of his own life, and be more attractive to his girlfriend. He gets a job at a telemarketing firm and discovers the secret is to stop sounding “Black” and adopt a “White” voice–not just sounding White, but what White people wish they sounded like–powerful, rich, and not having a care in the world. When he adopts this voice (hilariously overdubbed by David Cross), Cassius gains a magic selling power and quickly becomes a sales star, rising up the corporate ladder to become a “Power Seller,” a salesman who sells clients on weaponry for wars and slave labor for industry. The latter is provided by a company called Worry-Free, which promises food and shelter to people in return for a lifelong labor contract (basically, slavery).
In the process, Cassius loses his friends and girlfriend, who are trying to unionize the telemarketing firm and resist the likes of Worry-Free, and to an extent his soul. Now rich and feeling good at a profession and having solved all his problems, he is slowly transforming to not only project a “White” persona, he is starting to internalize and live it. When he’s confronted with Worry-Free’s next step to turn labor into a disposable asset, he realizes who he is and whose side he’s on.
SORRY TO BOTHER YOU (both a telemarketer phrase and a statement to the viewer about its uncomfortable messages) touches on racial issues, but in my view it isn’t about race, it’s about economics, a a scathing critique of capitalism, from the steady decline of the average standard of living to how capital views labor (in this movie, taking it to a Swiftian level), to how corporations try to falsely cultivate a forced sense of family, to the mindless entertainments that distract labor from its plight, to how our impulses to succeed in the future often undermine our ability to live an authentic life in the moment. Backed by an amazing cast and cutting in its satire, SORRY TO BOTHER YOU is brilliant, subversive, and powerful. Highly recommended.