Contrasting the common wide theatrical releases of Hollywood films, Riley’s feature length directorial debut Sorry to Bother You opened with a quiet, limited release early last month. Although the box office numbers aren’t flowing to a big studio name, you truly haven’t entered Riley’s black comedy critique of capitalism until you’ve spent a little more money on gas traveling to an unfamiliar AMC or an independent theater, payed 10 bucks for your ticket, spent another twenty on snacks, and sat through around seven trailers which all intend to persuade you to repeat the whole process again next weekend.
After all that, you may temporarily relinquish your chaotic role as a consumer and find a version of yourself in the film’s financially struggling protagonist, Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield). Although employed at the sketchy telemarketing company RegalView, Cassius remains optimistic that he may one day be promoted to a “Power Caller”. At first his drive proves to be ineffective after several people aren’t persuaded by his marketing skills until he finds the key to their pockets and hence his own successes, the “white voice”.
Sorry to Bother is brimming with biblical references and symbolisms, but its most interesting element is undeniably the “white voice” and its meaning. While placed at the forefront of the film, the funny, over exaggerated interpretation of a stereotypical white suburban male is probably the film’s most overlooked component. Yes, it sounds “white” but even deeper than that it’s the voice of a capitalist who views labor as soulless bodies only meant to be exploited for their own profit. Cassius doesn’t exactly master the voice of the average sounding white man but more specifically he masters the ability to easily manipulate people for money.
Therefore, the “white voice” isn’t exactly a voice but more so the active force of capitalism persuading people to needlessly consume and pursue material possessions. Danny Glover’s character, ,Langston, tells Cassius that it’s the voice that people think you should sound like not only because it’s typically viewed as correct, articulate and professional but because its ubiquitousness has, unknowingly, conditioned people to believe its the voice of reason; one that they can easily offer their wallets to. Despite Cassius’ growing awareness of this voice’s influential power, he ultimately falls victim to it himself when offered a rare opportunity to become a Power Caller.
Cassius, having been at the lowest of economic standings, is easily coaxed by the power and money accompanied with his swift corporate ascension. He no longer stands in solidarity with his heavily exploited, unionized co-workers after getting an unhealthy taste of glory and material wealth. Cassius fully loses himself, his morals, and his loved ones who can no longer stand the sight of his new businessman identity. During his corporate run, Cassius comes across as extremely selfish and inconsiderate to viewers, but he’s simply reacting to the rapacious nature of capitalism. As Cassius coldly says to one of his protesting friends whose disheartened by his siding with the corporate body, “I’ve got to pay my bills somehow.”
Interestingly, Cassius’ entire character journey, despite becoming increasingly outlandish throughout the film’s duration, is an accurate reflection of the average American. Like Cassius, many of us practically remain fixed to our economic standings regardless of how hard we work. We are all expected to pay a ridiculous amount of bills and support our loved ones. At times, accomplishing both becomes almost impossible to do without being a little selfish with an often less than adequate salary. “White voices”, or capitalists more specifically, embed themselves within commercials and various types of media constantly advocating for the acquisition of needless possessions. Unknowingly, we fall victim and conform to our society’s acquisitive climate just as Cassius does. Perhaps the only aspect of Cassius’ experiences absent within our’s is his ultimate realization of these forces actively corrupting him.
Cassius grows fully conscious of corporations’ innate desire to exploit and abuse labor in the most horrific ways in order to maximize their profits to the fullest extent. He soon grasps that wealth and material possessions does not equate success and that true happiness lies within the love and companionship shared between family and friends. But sadly his revelations and the messages accompanied with them are somewhat lost and don’t exactly find their way to the minds of audience members.
While being a refreshing, stylistic, unique, anti-studio project, Sorry to Bother You is also an extremely exaggerated depiction of reality. The film’s amplification of our world, as a result, sometimes distances its viewers from its anti-capitalistic core messages. Rather than leaving the theater with a hyper-critical attitude of corporate greed, for example, viewers are more likely to be reeling over several of the film’s funniest and wildest moments.
It may not have been Riley’s intentions at all to spark revolution amongst audiences as it had with Cassius and the mistreated employers of RegalView. Perhaps the revolution lies within Riley’s stylistic direction and unconventional narrative which distinguishes the film from the formulaic, box-office hungry, studio reboots and sequels plaguing modern-day Hollywood.
Whether you are inspired to rebel truly does not matter. Movies are, first and foremost, supposed to entertain and Sorry to Bother You is undeniably an extremely enjoyable, immersive, hilarious 100 minutes of fun. There is something lying within its insanity for the common moviegoer looking for a great film, the film buff and certainly the anti-capitalistic viewer seeking to unravel its profound commentaries on American society.