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A welcome disturbance

Sorry to Bother You
Regissør: Boots Riley

Class struggle, racial segregation, telephone sales and damning reality shows are key elements of Boots Riley's fanciful and satirical debut film, Sorry to Bother You.


And now for something completely different, say Monty Python. When rap musician and activist Boots Riley was about to sell his feature film debut to potential investors, he began by describing it as an "absurd, dark comedy with magical realism and science fiction inspired by the telemarketing world". With these words, it should be clear that Sorry to Bother You is quite different from most American movies – or movies from other countries, for that matter.

The feature film is about the young, black American Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield) – "Cash" among friends – who lives in his uncle's garage and is in desperate need of a job. He gets that from a telephone sales company, where he quickly breaks the code for success: On the advice of a colleague (played by veteran Danny Glover), he starts talking to customers with his "white voice". Cassius is so skilled at work that he quickly rises in the ranks, even in the literal sense; more specifically, to the floor further up in the office building, where they speak exclusively with a "white voice", and where the products sold, ethically speaking, are far more dubious than the initial lexicons.

Class struggle and reality TV

Early on, it becomes obvious that the film portrays a reasonably twisted reality, with equally obvious, satirical parallels to today's United States. In the scenes, the company WorryFree advertises that people give up their freedom for an almost robotic happiness where all primary needs are met, and on TV rolls the program "I Got the Sh * t Kicked Out of Me" – where people just get the life shit knocked out of themselves for the sake of mass entertainment.

Cassius' success and subsequent strike-breaking causes him to fail his friends in the workplace, who want to form a trade union for the telemarketers. Among them are Detroit girlfriend (Tessa Thompson); a performance artist and activist who directs his actions towards WorryFree. Through his new sales assignments, Cassius also comes into closer contact with the same company, as well as the shady development of a new and quite revolutionary form of labor.

Director Riley aims hard at corporate business.

It is very rare to see an American feature film – in addition to a comedy – that deals so much unions that Sorry to Bother You. In the film, director and screenwriter Riley, who has allegedly been a self-proclaimed Communist since the teens, is fiercely shot at corporate business and the American dream of financial success. He is just as busy discussing the ever-present racial divisions in today's United States. Among other things, the film harasses stereotypical expectations of Black Americans, such as when Cassius is asked by his new white colleagues to perform a rap. In the absence of both ability and verse lines, he ends up repeating the words "nigger shit" (to the great excitement of the audience!), In a sequence that is presumably also meant as a kick to the notion of what hip hop is about.

Enjoyable and well-placed are also the satirical ointments against the contemporary love of extreme (and extremely damning) reality shows, and how YouTube is the way to reach the masses. However, whether this will actually contribute to a change is another matter.

Independent production

With its many creative whims and its damn lack of conformity, bear Sorry to Bother You distinctive features of being produced outside the major Hollywood studios, as well as being a debut film. Also in his visual film language, Boots shows Riley a refreshing willingness to go his own way.

A feature film that is evident in the treatment of political issues.

The film is not unique, however. Of course, other satirical comedies are made with political sting, also in the United States. And with the superhero movie Black Panthers solid success, there is likely to be greater room for African American-rooted stories in the country's film industry. Sorry to Bother You bears several similarities to last year's satirical sci-fi / horror comedy Get Out by Jordan Peel, who starred Lakeith Stanfield also co-starred. In addition, it can provide associations with John Sayles' independently produced and partly absurd science fiction film Brother From Another Planet. But it does say something about the frequency of such films that the latter is from 1984.

It may be objected that Boots Riley's movie could have been even more damn violent and overdue, and it's not always humorous to hit. Still alive Sorry to Bother You well on the way up to the significant "hype" it has received since the premiere of the Sundance festival early this year. It is liberating to see a film that is so direct and clear in its treatment of political issues, while being done in a loose and catchy style that can appeal to a fairly wide audience. And perhaps the Americans are not the worst in the class in this way: How often do we see, for example, Norwegian feature films as politically charged as this one?

Sorry to Bother You have Norwegian movie premiere 23. November.


Aleksander Huser
Aleksander Huser
Huser is a regular film critic in Ny Tid.

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