Let Me Explain Why Sorry To Bother You Will Wreck Your Brain
I remember when we started discussing Mother! here on THiNC. and people were like, sure, it’s fun to discuss… but do you recommend it? And I was like, oh no. No, no, no, no. Definitively no. Not unless you are mental, like me. And you love discussing avant garde ideas and mind blowing concepts. No. Because, as far as entertainment goes, it just isn’t. But if you enjoy cracking open a Sociology text book, or a Philosophy text book and arguing arcane ideas, then yes! You’ll love Mother! Same goes here for the movie, Sorry To Bother You. But if you’ve already seen it, then you are dying to let me explain why sorry to bother you will wreck your brain. So let’s dive in, shall we?
First, let me say this, that Sorry To Bother You is Get Out, but only if you force fed it unhealthy doses of hallucinogenic drugs for an extended duration. And then, after you incubated that movie in its hallucinogenic stew, I’d add a dash of Black Mirror and liberally hucked a bit of Nietzsche and heck, why not some Camus while we are at it? Shake thoroughly, and then stand back. Because this concoction is going to blow. Did I warn you enough? Because, you really haven’t moved back behind the led blast barrier yet. And you really really should.
To be honest, I had never heard of it until CY gave me a shout out about this film. She said, Taylor, you may just want to check out Sorry To Bother You, it sounds like it’ll be the next Get Out. So I literally left work over lunch, and ran to a mid-day showing I wasn’t intending to attend. But I knew something was up when I realized I was literally the only person in the theater. Literally. No one. And by no one, I mean zero. But why? Here, why don’t we watch the trailer and see if we can ascertain what is going on here.
Sorry To Bother You Deep Dive Discussion
Seeing as though I was the only one in the theater, I had my iPad out, and my Apple pencil, and was jotting notes about this movie like a freaking stenographer. I had no idea where it was going or what was important, and so I was taking note of literally everything flying by me. So if you want to just jump to the end, in order to get to the explanation portion of the discussion, fine with me. But I’m going to be doing some therapy right here right now, just to get this stuff, and these notes out of my system. Trust me. It’ll be better that way.
Cassius Green (played by Lakeith Stanfield) is four months behind on his rent. Oh, and a quick comment about his name? Cash Green? If this didn’t signal to you that we had walked straight into a modern day parable, you were asleep at the switch. Other names that should have tipped you? Diana DeBauchery (pronounced Dee-bow-cherry… “Isn’t that debauchery?” “Uh no.”) Steve Lift (as the CEO of the slave company WorryFree.) Etc, etc. Trust me here, watch the names. Anyway, names aside, Cash and his girlfriend, Detroit (played by Tessa Thompson), live in his uncle Sergio’s (played by Terry Crews) garage. And Sergio is in danger of losing the house as a result. Things are desperate. And so Cash heads off to a job interview over at a call center entitled RegalView.
Cash shows up to his interview with a fake trophy from his time at the Bank of Oakland for being the Employee of the Month. The only problem? The interviewer worked at the Bank of Oakland during the time Cash says he got the trophy. But, the bootleg trophy tells him everything he needs to know, that Cash has initiative, and that he can read. And just like that, Cash is hired. And that night, as Cash and Detroit celebrate his new job, Cash wants to talk about how his time on this spinning orb is just spinning in this endless nothing. That at some points his kids’, kid’s kid’s, kids will be dead and gone, and that he’ll be forgotten. And what is it all really for? What has he done that really even matters?
When he starts his job, Cash realizes there is an elite group of employees at RegalView that are called Power Callers. And that Cash has the opportunity to become a Power Caller if he distinguishes himself through his sales on the phone. And so immediately we are given a ladder of progression played out for Cash. And this is very much like any job that you or I would take. Do well here… then maybe you can make it to this venerated level. Right? So Cash starts obsessing about making sales left and right and eventually making it into this elite group.
But how is Cash expected to sell? How can he possibly do it? And that is when Langston, (played by Danny Glover) who sits next to Cash, tells him, that he has to use his white voice… And right here, I’m sorry, but I have to pull a ripcord, and talk this through. Ok?
Sorry To Bother You and “The White Voice”
No one wants to talk to a cold caller. Right? No one. It’s just never fun. And so what Langston (actually Boots Riley, as the screenplay writer, if we want to be perfectly honest) is saying here to Cash is, if these people are going to talk to you, they’d probably prefer to talk to white people, than black. Right? It’s funny. But it’s not. Like, not even a little bit. So this idea of Cash’s need to perfect his “White Voice” in order to make sales, and to move up the corporate ladder? It’s basically saying, in order for black people to make it, they need to play the part of a white person. Right? They need to act white, sound white, like things that white people like. Which, is horrible. Just terrible.
And when I first heard Cash and Langston going to town in their white voices, I was like, oh, my, gosh. That’s Patton Oswalt! Oooh! And that? Who is that? That has GOT to be David Cross! And sure enough…
The Alternate Reality and the Idea of Unions and Strikes
Sorry To Bother You is set in a near, alternate reality of some weird sort. It’s here, but not here. For example, we have been getting hints that there are a couple different social phenomenon’s happening that aren’t happening in our version of reality. The first is a show entitled, “I Got the Shit Kicked Out of Me,” wherein the show’s host just beats the living snot out of someone for no apparent reason. Obviously this is a play out of the Black Mirror playbook that Boots Riley is making here. And he is basically taking his own swipe at our country’s severe fixation with public humiliation. He’s saying, really? There is nothing we won’t do for fame. There is nothing we won’t do to socially humiliate another human being.
We also keep hearing about a company called WorryFree. Ads keep popping up on television and on billboards, talking about how if you come join WorryFree you will have all your housing, and basic necessities met. But these “houses” look strangely familiar to prisons. And the people seems to be too happy for reality. As the movie progresses, we don’t know what Worryfree is up to, but we know that whatever it is, it’s not good.
Similarly… we know that RegalView, where Cash works, is horrible to its employees. Like terrible. And so the staff has decided they are going to start going on short strikes in order to let RegalView know that they won’t tolerate it anymore. But, in a play to undercut the strikes, Cash is told that he has been promoted to a new position with the Power Callers. And Cash? He’s conflicted about whether to take the promotion until he sees the salary. And so Cash steps across the picket line, and heads to work with the Power Callers.
Very quickly, the viewer learns that it is the job of Power Callers to sell labor from the WorryFree “labor pool”. If you need cell phones assembled? Let WorryFree assemble twice as many units for half the cost. They make cars for what it used to cost to make bikes. And just like that, we have confirmation of the fact that WorryFree employees are actually modern day slaves. (Has anyone’s head popped yet? Because Boots Riley just made a futuristic correlation between assembly lines workers and slave labor.
The Worryfree Plans of Steve Lift in Sorry to Bother You
As Cash is succeeding in the corporate world, his relationship is crashing with Detroit. Detroit is a performance artist that is about to do her first solo show. And at this crazy show, she tells Cash that what he is doing isn’t phat, but that it’s morally emaciated. And she also tells him that if he continues crossing the picket line, the two of them are finished. But Cash crosses t he line anyway. And later that day Cash is invited by his boss to go to a Steve Lift party. And at the party, Lift tells stories about going on safari and killing rhinos. And then he asks Cash to tell stories from the inner city. But since he doesn’t have any cool stories, Lift asks him to rap. And even though he says he doesn’t rap, he gives it a go. And it’s awful. But ends up yelling the N-word over and over again, and getting the crowd into it. And obviously this is skewering the stereotype that all black people are good at sports, rapping, and dancing.
But it’s what happens next that derails the entire movie and heads off into full-on mind blown territory. Steve Lift takes Cash aside and wants to make Cash an offer he can’t refuse. But before Lift can make the offer, Cash says he has to go to the bathroom. And while in the bathroom, someone in one of the stalls asks for help. And when Cash opens the door, its a horse person of some sort. They are begging for help. Wait, WHAT? And when Cash gets back to Lift, Cash is flipping out. And Steve Lift says to Cash, that is what I was going to explain… duh, can’t let you think I’m crazy. I have to walk you through it!
So Steve shows Cash a video about evolution and how tools were just the cave man’s version of human modification. Tools made humans stronger and more efficient, more profitable. So it makes sense to evolve humanity into Equistrisapiens in order to make them more profitable as well. And what the president of Worryfree wants Cash to do, is become an Equistrisapien, and for $100 million dollars, become the Martin Luther King Jr. of the Equistrisapien for the next five years.
Let’s Stop For a Moment
So yeah, Boots has written a movie about the horribleness of the white corporate ladder and how it will chew anyone up and spit them out. And that, in order for black people to make it in this world, they need to act as white as possible. And the whiter they act, the better they will do. On top of that? It’s about an Amazon like company that decides the best way to get the cheapest labor possible is to entrap individuals into a voluntary slavery. And in order to get as much out of these slaves as possible? It’d be best if we help them evolve into half horse, half human creatures of some sort.
Right? Yeah, you understand so far what is happening. But what is Boots Riley doing here? Is it an attack on Amazon specifically? Yes. But not just Amazon, who will logically do anything and everything imaginable to make more money. Morality has stopped being a thing. I mean, just look at the stories of how the company has turned its warehouse employees into robots. Robots that move items from shelf to shelf in order to maintain certain levels of efficiency. Rules that belittle humans and don’t give them even basic bathroom breaks. But is this a black person issue? No, I think, yeah – he started there. But then he jumped out into the insanity of our entire corporate greed structure. The insanity of some of these enormous tech firms. The scale swallowing and swamping the humanity out of these decisions.
I mean, look at what happens when Cash tells the news networks what is happening inside the company. We see that the stock soars on the news. Right? He tells the world that Steve Lift is creating half human, half horse hybrids and the stock market thinks this is brilliant. Morality and common decency? Gone. Cash even agrees to go on the “I Got the Shit Kicked Out of Me” in order to show his video that the Equistrisapiens sent him later that night. But that does literally nothing. Cash realizes that asking people to call their Congressmen won’t substantially change a morally decayed system. And so he decides to join his old friends who are still picketing out at RegalView, and when he is arrested and put in the back of a police van, he calls in for reinforcements. The Equistrisapiens! And the horse people free him from the van and help Cash fight back. Which is when Cash is looking at the screen, when his nose changes to a horse’s nose.
But we get one more scene, where we see Cassius is leading a posse of Equistrisapiens storming the Steve Lift castle. Which, is better than where he started at the mid-point of the movie anyway. And, roll credits!
PHEW! But What Does Sorry To Bother You Mean?
Well… maybe the best way to move forward is to list out some crazy “what the heck” moments in Sorry To Bother You, and see if we can’t figure each one out. Ok? Because the movie as a whole is too far gone to tackle all at once:
Question 1. “Let’s start with Power Callers, what do they signify?”
Answer 1 – Well, from a power structure, Boots has constructed the artificial echelons of power within business. Line staff. Management. Upper management. Customers. CEOs. Etc. And Power Callers are just one more step along the capitalist food chain that we see in America and elsewhere around the world.
Question 2. “What’s the deal with Detroit, and her weird performance art stuff?”
Answer 2 – Detroit plays the role of the non-sell out. She, as an artist, is calling out the man for being the man. Her African paintings signify that she truly understands how ruthless, oppressive, and dehumanizing this corporate culture really is. That goes for all their friends that have decided to picket and refused to work with RegalView anymore. In this fable, this cast of people are the only individuals that really get what is going on.
Question 3. “I get that the White Voice is a metaphor in this fable, but for what?”
I am going to admit here that I’m the least qualified person to answer. Why don’t we let Boots Riley fill us in on that front?
“The white voice is merely an idea that everything is taken care of. That voice, that whiteness, is a performance for white people as well. But often, what is studied is blackness and black culture as a performance, as if to say, ‘Oh, these people are acting macho, they don’t have the culture that’s sufficient to survive, and that’s why they’re poor or have a broken family.
“Blackness is often studied as a performance and talked in terms of proving that those in poverty are completely responsible for their own poverty. Yet, we live in an economic system where, regardless of your own feelings on it, there has to be poverty. You wouldn’t be able to get people to work for 10 bucks an hour if there wasn’t poverty. You have to have an army of unemployed people.”
And with that, I’ll call the question answered, because I can’t add much value to what the writer of the screenplay has to say about it.
Question 4. “Fine. But what about the Equistrisapiens? That’s just all kinds of messed up…”
Answer 4 – Here too, I’m unqualified to answer, but I’ll yield the floor to Mr. Riley again, and what he was doing here, and what the purpose was. He stated in several different interviews, that the Equistrisapiens speaks to “the never-ending, cyclical struggle for your humanity in a capitalist system that only values you as labor.” This is a page straight out of Karl Marx’s handbook and his attacks on capitalism, right? “Capitalist production, therefore, develops technology, and the combining together of various processes into a social whole, only by sapping the original sources of all wealth – the soil and the labourer.” Karl Marx. So, what Boots Riley is saying here isn’t new, but it is a shocking new way of saying it.
And then Riley went on in other interviews to talk about how he needed Cassius to finally see himself and what he’d become. At first, the N-word filled “rap performance” was a start. “But I knew I needed something more, something that shook him in a physical way.” And that was when the Equistrisapiens came to be. Riley went with horses mainly because of their close ties to labor and domestication – which, is a close facsimile to slavery and racism as a whole. “It’s all over our language: ‘strong as a horse,’ ‘working like a horse,'” he said. “Even ‘hung like a horse.'”
So, we see here that Boots Riley is saying that capitalism will spend everything and everyone lying in its wake. And when it runs out, it will do whatever it can to pimp the earth, and its people in order to get what it needs. Which is resources. Which is productivity. Which is profit. And that this system, is actually flawed. To sell out just to buy into a corrupt system that will just use you up and spit you out? Is the epitome of deranged.
My Own Personal Thoughts on Sorry To Bother You
I really don’t understand all the inner workings of this movie. But I did really enjoy the classical philosophy and political science tie ins. The calling out of a failed economic system and its amoral tendencies. And this is coming from a Republican political science major who once thought that the best economic system was democracy. And the best political system was a free-market capitalist economy. (Yes, I know exactly what I just said.) Let’s just say, I was pretty crazy as a teenager.
But any movie that forces us to think seriously about our stock markets as a method for deciding the fates of millions? This is a sane way for us to manage our families and the people of the world? Worse, it’s a system designed to keep the poor, poor and the rich, rich? All while parading the myth of the American dream? Sure, there are exceptions. Some manage to escape their financial chains. But generally speaking, you will live within the financial strata that you are born into.
Did I enjoy the movie though? Nah. Not even a little bit. I liked some of the ideas. And some of the challenges to the status quo. But, no, it wasn’t really a fun movie. What did you think of the movie?
Edited by, CY