starring Lakeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson, Jermaine Fowler, Armie Hammer
written and directed by Boots Riley
by Walter Chaw There's a moment in Boots Riley's hyphenate debut Sorry to Bother You--it happens in the last third of the picture--that rang so pure and true to me I felt adrenalized, known, inspired. The best art does that: locates that juncture between expression and activism. I felt it during Get Out as I began to recognize the parties where I'd been the only minority guest and somehow also the guest of honor; I hope to feel it one day while watching something about the Asian-American experience. I'd always wondered about the black community coalescing around bootlegs of Seventies kung fu movies, but now I understand it as I find myself vibing to Janelle Monae's and Childish Gambino's energetic, pithy counterculture activism. Sorry to Bother You belongs to this moment of crisis. It's a withering indictment of capitalism and the white ruling class in the United States as it's metastasized into a machine that's only ever interested in consuming its weakest, most underrepresented members. The running joke involves prison/work programs dressed up as a way for entire subsistence, formerly middle-class families to sell their lives to the proverbial "company store." "WorryFree" promises freedom in endless toil. The sign over the entrance to Auschwitz and on the gate at Dachau promised something similar with "Arbeit Macht Frei" ("Work Sets You Free"). In this way, the for-profit prison system in the land of the free is presented for mockery and shame. The idea that the corporate structure in the United States is akin to a prison is raised, too. If films are an empathy machine, this one is the "uncomfortable recognition generator" piece of it. These past eighteen months have been sobering for a lot of my white friends. Sorry to Bother You is a summary of what, until Trump, was easy to sweep under the carpet.