In his directorial debut, Sorry to Bother You, the rapper and producer is bringing radicalism to the big screen
Boots Riley doesn’t do soundbites. He speaks in dense, meaty paragraphs full of ideas that, in the course of explicating themselves, branch out into sub-ideas which then branch out into sub-sub-ideas. In dealing with such an interview topic, a reporter will sometimes follow a long response by rephrasing the gist of what’s been said, go looking for confirmation that everyone’s on the same page. When I take this tack- is recommended that his 2012 album and freshly released feature film, both titled Sorry to Bother You, offer two views on a single tale- he rebuffs me.
” I entail, that builds for a cute, concise various kinds of slogan ,” he concedes, during a candid interview outside of a screening room in New York’s posh Tribeca neighborhood.” I wish I was that type of person, who was better at marketing. But I don’t like that; that’s actually not how I think of it .” He goes on to explain that while the two runs draw influence from the same defined of themes, neither was intended as an adaptation of the other. He will not be mistaken.
Just as his run defies easy classification, so too does Riley himself refuse to be placed in a tidy media narrative. He’s a dedicated radical with the street cred to prove it, a wicked humorist oscillating between surreal satire and gallows slapstick, a rapper alone in a genre he generated, an authority on class theory who loves to party, and now, a film-maker wending his style through an industry he doesn’t quite consider hostile territory, but doesn’t trust, either. Messy as the undertaking might be, we’re all going to have to figure out what to make of Riley, because he doesn’t intend on going anywhere any time soon.
At age 47, two and a half decades out from the release of his first album as ringleader of the Oakland hip-hop collective the Coup, Riley has steered his career closer to the mainstream than ever without compromising his deeply held political convictions. No easy feat, as shown in Sorry to Bother You, his debut as director. The film is an incendiary look at the trials and tribulations black humen face in an economy exploiting and humiliating them before casting them aside. Riley transmuted his own frustrations from dealings with record label suits into a fairytale nightmare of late capitalism: Cassius Green( Lakeith Stanfield ), a telemarketer, finds that his commissions rise when he puts on his” white voice” and tumbles into a corporate behemoth with darker purposes even beyond their stated mission of sanitized slavery. With ribald humor and outrageous provocations- there’s a nearly nude recitation from the Berry Gordy-produced film The Last Dragon, and a number of jokes revolve around a specific aspect of a specific animal’s anatomy- Riley has shawl a subversive anti-establishment screed in allegory.