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With dollar signs in your eyes

Boots Riley’s formidable first project jabs at the cultural and economic inequities continually swept under the rug
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The protagonist, Casius Green, a pseudo anagram for cash is green, is played by the impossibly brooding LaKeith Stanfeild. (Vox)
I do not understand being dealt an incomplete hand. It seemingly limits acceptable and congenial choices that could have been made throughout the game of life. Reach under the table for a couple of cards, ditching your morality and supplementing it with moments of recreation.
Because time is money and you don’t have any.
This was a phrase taken seriously by the American film director, producer, screenwriter, rapper and social activist, Raymond Lawrence “Boots” Riley, when debuting his first movie, “Sorry to bother you”.
Premiering in 2018 with a production value of $3.2 million, “Sorry to bother you” was never built to make a profit. Riley simply wanted to try his hand at directing and ended up making a marvelously upsetting movie in the process.
The protagonist, Casius Green, a pseudo anagram for cash is green, is played by the impossibly brooding LaKeith Stanfeild.
Casius lives with his girlfriend Detroit, played by Tessa Thompson, in his indebted uncle’s garage. While Detroit is happy making very little money as a self-employed artist and professional sign spinner, Casius feels trapped and insatiable.
Like situations seen in other farce movies, there is a presence of a single corporation that holds a monopoly over the American economy but creates no product in particular. The corporation is called WorryFree and encourages a relinquishment of personal freedoms in exchange for life stability.
They provide free room and board if you work 40 hour weeks and lose all connection to the life you used to live.
It is clear, although never said outright, that WorryFree is in control of almost all advertising, at least in the state of California. A parallel could be drawn between WorryFree and Amazon, cementing the complicity that the viewer associates with a made-up corporation in this dramatized situation.
Riley’s general goal when creating this world was to expose our nation’s non-existent meritocracy. We fill young minds with ideas of work or passion eventually resulting in financial and personal success. Come on? I think by now we understand this idea of “deserved wealth” as an unchartable flaw in our economic and political waters.
Trying to counteract the effects of having a partiality takes time. Once an individual finds a way to achieve upward class mobility, it becomes hard to look back at those who shared your situation moments ago. This creates social disunity and a period of loss. Loss of your culture, loss of your morals, and loss of who you were when you built for only yourself.
Casius walks this line after being hired by a telemarketing company called RegalView. He goes through the motions of calling rudderless, sad or angry individuals while not making a cent. It isn’t until he talks to his cubicle neighbor Langston, played by Danny Glover, that he finds he has been going about his sales all wrong. Langston tells Casius to call people using his “White voice” and to stop following the company script.
When Casius hears this he attempts a “White voice” by pinching the tip of his nose to make himself sound nasally. Langston swats his hands saying that, it isn’t about making your voice sound like a white man, it’s about sounding like you never had to worry about paying your water bill or if you had enough money to attend college.
Once Casius becomes familiar with how to use his “White voice”, his career blossoms.
This is the first time that he has ever felt financially rewarded for his natural abilities and thus begins to sacrifice his principles. The color algorithm created by Riley was largely inspired by Oakland street art, being the movie setting. Yellow and blue are the exclusive colors used during most scenes until there has been an established turning point.
These colors have been seen throughout many Hollywood movies as a basic way to convey opposition while more specifically depicting both good and evil. We are only exposed to a mix of colors when we see Detroit’s art studio. In this scene Casius has begun to give in to the rejection of morals that comes with being a “power caller”. We see some of Detroit’s art, which focuses on the silhouette of Africa.
She explains that her art aims to show “How capitalism basically started by stealing labor from Africans.” Detroit’s passion is also seen through her wardrobe and red hair which was an intentional stylistic presentation of anger and resistance. Detroit holds strong in this belief that earning a paycheck means that you submit to white people and the capitalist regime. She uses art as a way to “escape” and “stay real.”
As Casius sinks further into a life of personal compromise, Detroit becomes dissatisfied and scared. She ends up dumping him on the night of her art show. When Casius arrives at Detroit’s show, he finds her studio full of wealthy white men and women. He stumbles around wondering why her career has suddenly taken off. He then hears her speaking to a crowd of possible buyers using a crisp British accent.
The use of the “White voice” by a variety of black characters in this movie finalizes this idea of performative action. Riley’s goal when figuring out how to portray this dramatic code switch was to make it seem cartoonish and alien, to effectively convey the frustrating realism to an audience of all racial and class backgrounds.
“Sorry to bother you” concludes after a series of trippy incidents, attempting to make a larger claim about “life improvement” and the downfall of our capital driven world. With clips of stop motion, CGI, and a jaunty soundtrack, you feel like you are watching motions only possible on paper.
Riley’s natural cuts make this movie solid. I see his process through each crafty little action and costume piece. “Sorry to bother you” perfectly demonstrates the cycle of guilt and instability that comes with being a victim of culturally enforced self destruction.
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