Boots Riley And The Brilliant Surrealism Of Sorry To Bother You

Most film enthusiasts have already hearkened the coming of Sorry to Bother You since it screened at Sundance in June, but this surreal offering has been percolating in the distance since to 2012.  Directed by musician Boots Riley, starring LaKeith Stansfield, Tessa Thompson, Omari Hardwick, Armie Hammer and Steven Yuen, “Sorry to Bother You” is set in an alternative universe in contemporary Oakland. Stansfield plays Cassius, a young man who accepts a job as a telemarketer and learns the secret to excelling at his gig from a wile old phone veteran played by Danny Glover.

The film addresses labor, slavery via capitalism, classism, and racism in a manner that forces the viewer to concentrate on what the film is trying to say.  The Shadow League was in attendance at screening and talkback between the cast of ”Sorry To Bother You” and New York talk radio personality Charlemagne Tha God.  The exchange is the best spoiler-free review of the offering that I can offer of this fanciful, surrealist offering.

Get Out, Atlanta, And The Afro-Surrealist Film Movement

Surrealism is the 20-century avant-garde artistic and literary movement that sought to stir the creative potential of the unconscious mind position seemingly irrational imagery adjacent to one another. Artist Salvador Dali is among the most respect of that era.

“How many people could have guessed what was going to happen?” said Boots Riley in response to an inquiry from Charlemagne regarding the plot. “So it definitely wasn’t one of those. I wanted to make something where people engage with the movie in a different way than they normally do. Like in a heist movie and you’re like “okay, they just put together a team. It’s that part, so I can go to the bathroom now.’ You know, it’s a thing where you know exactly what’s going on. Sometimes, that’s comfortable because you know the rules and you know what that is. But I wanted people to understand that there’s something happening constantly and you have to engage the film in a different way.”

Tessa Thompson plays love interest Detroit, a rebellious artist who eventually becomes increasingly disillusioned with the decisions Cassius is making.  She told the gathering how ‘Sorry To Bother You’ was like the answer to a prayer.

“I really like it and I thought it was unlike something that I’ve ever read before.  I always wanted to make a film that hung out in a space of natural realism.  There are so many people who use that but for whatever reason, black and brown people are held out of those narratives. We just don’t exist in that space.  I just kind of assumed that I would never get to make a film like “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” or felt like “Being John Malkovich” or any of those films, which were cool but there’s just no black people in those spaces. In a way, when I read Boots’ script, it was the answer to a secret prayer that I had about the content I wanted to make.”

“I think there’s an element to it where it sometimes feels like it’s easier to ingest it when it’s like a skosh from reality but the truth is, particularly in the space of satire, I feel like somedays I open social media and think ‘We are living in satire. Look at what the Oval Office looks like right now? Whose writing this? This is stranger than fiction.” Boots said there was an older draft where the term ‘Make American Great Again’ existed in it, right? It’s almost like the culture has caught up with what you were thinking when you wrote this.”

Boots Riley describing the chemistry between Thompson and Stansfield:

Seeing him and Tessa have different styles and kind of bounce it out.  I always saw Tessa as more like the drummer. Like, four-on-the-floor, we’re gonna keep this going, we’re gonna keep this going, You can go offbeat, I’m just gonna keep this going.  And he’s like the crazy guitar player who only texts in caps.

Surrealism is described as a 20th-century avant-garde movement in art and literature that sought to release the creative potential of the unconscious mind, for example by the irrational juxtaposition of images. This is exactly what is occurring in this film. However, the mind is indeed conscious.  Riley was cognizant of how closely his film mirrored reality and took steps to remedy it.

“The real world made my script too ‘on the nose’.  Here, Mr Blank, which is Omari’s character, said the line ‘Worry Free is resuscitating America.’  But it used to be ‘Worry Free is making America great again. That was in 2012-2014. “

SORRY TO BOTHER YOU | Official Trailer

IN SELECT THEATERS JULY 6! EVERYWHERE JULY 13!! Get yo merch: In an alternate present-day version of Oakland, telemarketer Cassius Green discovers a magical key to professional success, propelling him into a macabre universe.

Boots Riley on his difficulties in getting financing for the film:

Imagine what it sounds like when I say ‘Hey, I’m a musician but I have a script. Do want to read it?’ No. Little by little, inch by inch. I get a person to read it.  ‘You think it’s good? Can I read your name?’  Then, in 2014 we published it at McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern as a paperback book.  It went out to 10 or 12 thousand people with the quarterly. That was a big co-sign. Then a year later getting into the Sundance labs, the writers’ lab and the directors’ lab. That’s something that made them say ‘Okay, maybe that’s something we need to look at.’  It’s not just a rapper doing a script instead of a shoe line. There’s something to it.  Those things took a while. Then, as you can see, it’s a much different movie.  So investors are like ‘Well what movie is this kinda like that’s made a lot of money?’ I’m sure now they’re comparing it to ‘Get Out’.  But we were already going.  When ‘Get Out‘ came long we were already funded by then. At the time, I knew of ‘Get Out’ before it came out. And they were like ‘Oh, that’s not going to do anything.’  That’s what the industry was like. ‘Oh, Jordan Peele? He’s a Youtube star.’

Lakieth Stansfield on playing Cassius:

Cassius is something that came out of this great, beautiful skull (pointing to Boots). I didn’t know what the f*ck it was when I first read it and I didn’t know if it was something I wanted to move forward on.  I read it a second time and was like ‘Oh I like that!’ I read it a third time and was like ‘I gotta do this sh*t because it’s going to be something that’s really special and I’m glad Boots trusted me to take his vision on.

Boots Riley on Lakieth Stansflied’s methodology:

 Me and Lakieth talked for months about creating the character, what he wanted to do as far as posture, all that stuff.  Just the feel and the beats in the movie, and that kind of thing. I was comfortable with that. Then, a few weeks before, I was like ‘Do you know your lines?’ And he was like ‘Yeah, I don’t like to do that until right before. As a first time director, I’m over prepared for everything because I’m really scared about what could go wrong. So I’m like ‘Okay, my lead actor does not know his lines.’  But when he came to set he knew his lines but the thing that I believe it gives him is it’s almost like I don’t know what he’s going to say next. He gives a performance that is so in the moment. It’s not only how he’s delivering the lines or him being in the feeling, but it’s something that’s happening right then.  And you end up feeling that character going through the motions a little bit more than with someone who knows exactly what they’re going to say and can say them to you on demand.

“There’s all the preparation that you goes in before you get to that place in space but beforehand, but then you throw all that sh*t away and exist in the moment. And the real things that happen determined how you react,” responded Stansfield.

“Sorry To Bother You” opens in select locations Friday, July 6th, nationwide on July  13th.

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