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Boots Riley’s Bonkers/Brilliant Style on “Sorry to Bother You”

The revolution will be not be telemarketed.

See Boots Riley, Angela Davis Deliver Speeches at Juneteenth March in Oakland
“Wealth is power. We have the ability to withhold that power. We have the ability to withhold our labor, and shut shit down,” rapper/filmmaker says.

A surreal comedy about “rising up and selling out,” the film Sorry to Bother You is written and directed by Boots Riley.

“Riley, an artist, activist and musician making his feature-directing debut, is both an omnivore and an original,” explains A.O. Scott. “One of the secondary pleasures of watching Sorry to Bother You is sifting through its possible influences. But Mr. Riley isn’t constructing yet another postmodern playhouse out of borrowings and allusions. He’s building a raft, and steering it straight into the foaming rapids of racism, economic injustice and cultural conflict.” To read the full article, click here.

Read more: Sorry to Bother You and the New Black Surrealism

Lakeith Stanfield stars as Cassius Green in director Boots Riley’s “Sorry to Bother You,” an Annapurna Pictures release

“The title tips off the setting—a dreary telemarketing cubicle farm —but doesn’t begin to hint at what Riley has in mind,” says Mark Binelli. “After setting up his audience for a familiar workplace comedy in the vein of Office Space, he proceeds to madly derail all expectations, producing, instead, a surreal racial satire and pointed capitalist critique with startling plot turns that veer toward dystopian science fiction. It’s formally eccentric, politically charged and very, very funny.” To read the full article, click here.

“I wanted to make a movie that was like a novel,” Riley tells Tim Grierson. “Like, what’s the one idea in One Hundred Years of Solitude? Or the one idea in Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison? Or any great novel? I’m sure there’s some best-sellers that [just have one idea], but the writers I like have some denseness to them, like Gabriel García Márquez, Toni Morrison, Michael Ondaatje, Salman Rushdie. You feel like there’s this alive world around you because of the details.

“Some great writers will just write, ‘He went to the store’—that’s very important, you just told what happened and you get on with it because there’s something else bigger that you’re doing. But someone like the writers that I just mentioned, I feel like they’d say, ‘He walked slowly to the store. In his left hand, he carried a coffee cup that, 20 years before, his grandmother had used to murder his grandfather. In the cup was coffee from last night that he was determined to finish.’ It tells you a lot of stuff about the character, and it does so in a stylistic way.

“However, in film, most producers give you a note like, ‘Just show him at the store—don’t even say he walked to the store. Just show him at the store.’ And many times, that’s right, but it’s also a style we’re used to seeing. That doesn’t make it right — it just means that there’s a language we’re used to seeing.” To read the full interview, click here.

“Riley’s cheerfully deranged script has a curious tendency to seem haphazard in the moment, only to pull back and reveal a larger design,” adds Justin Chang. “And he gives his ideas a marvelously fluid cinematic form—apparent in the movement and precision of Doug Emmett’s cinematography, the vibrant colors of Jason Kisvarday’s production design and the moody intensity of the soundtrack, much of it by Riley’s hip-hop band the Coup— that dodges your every attempt to nail down the movie’s true intentions.” To read the full article, click here.

“There’s no denying that Sorry to Bother You gets in your face,” Cassidy Olsen emphasizes. “Everything about its visual style, from its ostentatious dissolves and transitions, to its whip-like camera work, is noteworthy. This over-the-topness also finds itself in the film’s crude claymation interludes. Rough and retro special effects work [appear to be] straight out of a ’70s horror flick.” To read the full article, click here.

“We were lighting with bold colors and with strong contrast, but we didn’t want the cinematography to distract from the characters,” Emmett tells Rin Ehlers Sheldon. “That being said, we wanted a stylized visual. Bouncing sunlight with mirrors, white cloth and foam core lent a more natural look for interior and exterior day scenes.

Tessa Thompson in director Boots Riley’s “Sorry to Bother You,” an Annapurna Pictures release

“For night scenes— such as apartment and bar interiors—colors were chosen with tone in mind, helping support the narrative. The film is dark, with many scenes intentionally lit so that you can’t always see the actor’s eyes or half their face. We felt that the added noise and contrast sometimes rendered an ‘imperfect’ look, and that appealed to us.” To read the full interview, click here.

“This is ultra-progressive, radical storytelling that manages to stay totally joyful and inventive throughout. Riley manages to both never come off as taking the thing too seriously, but he also verbalizes his intersectional, anti-capitalist ideals in visually unforgettable fashion.” To read the full article, click here.