July 11, 2018

Sorry to Bother You: Ambitious Telemarketer Joins the 1% in Sophisticated Social Satire

By Kam Williams

To describe Cassius “Cash” Green (Lakeith Stanfield) as struggling would be an understatement. He and his girlfriend, Detroit (Tessa Thompson), are four months behind in their rent on their unfinished garage apartment in inner-city Oakland. The only reason they haven’t been evicted is because their landlord is Cash’s Uncle Sergio (Terry Crews), who is willing to wait to be paid, and has even given his nephew a car.

Cash has been unemployed, but it isn’t for a lack of trying. His luck changes when, despite being caught lying on his résumé during a job interview, he’s hired because the interviewer admired his ingenuity. The hope is that he’d bring the same ambition to succeed to his entry level job as a telemarketer.

During his training, Cash is warned to “stick to the script,” if he wants to get ahead. He also gets valuable advice from an African American colleague (Danny Glover), who is in the neighboring cubicle, to “use your white voice.”

So, after he drops his black accent and follows the company’s guidelines, Cash is promoted to the coveted post of powercaller. With his promotion, he makes enough money to pay Uncle Sergio, buy a new car, and move to a fancy flat in an upscale neighborhood.

Unfortunately, the raise is a mixed blessing for Cash because it creates tension between him and the friends he left behind in the crowded call center. They’re still making minimum wage and are organizing a union over the objections of management. His politically-active girlfriend Detroit, who also works in the company, calls him a “scab” when he crosses the picket line formed by his former co-workers.

Sorry to Bother You is a thought provoking social satire that is the scriptwriting and directorial debut of Boots Riley. He’s better known as the founder of the radical hip hop group, The Coup, as well as being one of the most dynamic leaders of the Occupy Oakland Movement that was started in 2011.

Excellent (****). Rated R for sexuality, graphic nudity, ethnic slurs, violence, pervasive profanity, and drug use. Running time: 105 minutes. Production Studios: Cinereach/Forest Whitaker’s Significant Productions/Macro/MNM Creative/The Space Program. Distributor: Annapurna Pictures.