This is not a statement that is meant to be taken lightly: when I exited the movie theater after seeing “Sorry to Bother You,” I knew that would become an instant classic.
In hindsight, I believe that the film’s pacing and intellectual engagement made it stand out most prominently in my mind. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I first entered the theater. As such, during the first portion of “Sorry to Bother You,” I thought that I was watching a solely comedic film– a comedic satire, to be sure, but still very much a comedy. At the film’s halfway mark, however, it immediately took on a much darker tone. It began to focus on more disturbing, yet important, issues; specifically, the film focused on modern labor issues along with modern race issues to form an entertaining and thought-provoking piece of media.
“Sorry to Bother You” centers on a low-income African-American man named Cassius, who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.
The fact that the film takes place in the San Francisco Bay Area is no coincidence. Over the past few decades, the Bay Area has been essentially invaded by a horde of tech companies and their employees. Companies including Google, Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram are all headquartered in the Bay Area. Unfortunately, these companies’ employees have driven up Bay Area real estate prices exponentially in a worryingly short amount of time. Many lower-income residents have been left without affordable housing as a result. This phenomenon is eloquently laid out in an article by Keith A. Spencer on thebolditalic.com. The issue of gentrification is central to the plot of “Sorry to Bother You,” as both Cassius and his uncle struggle to keep the house that they share while their rent continues to increase.
Tech companies are known for fostering a culture of working longer and longer hours in order to compete with one’s co-workers. Marianne Cooper described this phenomenon in her article “Being the ‘Go-To Guy’: Fatherhood, Masculinity, and the Organization of Work in Silicon Valley.” Cooper wrote this article in 2000. The issue of overworking in Silicon Valley has undoubtedly gotten worse over the last eighteen years as tech has continued to grow exponentially as an industry.
Cassius experiences this phenomenon once he is promoted to the position of a “power caller,” which lifts him into a world that looks incredibly similar to an elite Bay Area tech company. The film also introduces “Worry Free,” a company that deals in legal slave labor, is headed by a CEO who is reminiscent of a tech-company boss. And finally, the “equisapians” which appear in the last act of the film are the most extreme and fantastical example of this overworking.
The film focuses perhaps most heavily on racial issues, however. “Sorry to Bother You” takes aim at the co-opting and commodification of black culture. Specifically, the film demonstrates the various ways in which black people must often conform to white expectations in order to get ahead. In fact, the most prominent example of this forced conformity is central to the film’s plot. The main character of the film, a black man named Cassius, discovers that he has a talent for affecting a so-called “white voice.” This talent propels him through the ranks at his workplace, a calling center. Cassius’ new status allows him access to a high-level work party, during which his company’s CEO instructs him to start rapping as a party trick. He can’t rap well, but he attempts to do so all the same. However, the party guests do not react positively to his performance until he plays into their expectations of black culture by openly using racial slurs and expletives and allowing his white audience to chant said racial epithets back at him.
These issues are all incredibly serious, and the film respects that fact. However, although the film does take on a much darker tone as it progresses, it does not completely lose its sense of humor. Its sense of humor becomes much more disturbing, to be sure, but it remains at least mildly amusing. The overt comedic bent to the first part of the film is very telling of the mental gymnastics which low-income people of color have to go through in order to remain sane in such a hostile world. The undertone of comedy which remains throughout the rest of the movie demonstrates that even if people of color belong to a higher social class, they continue to have to perform said mental gymnastics.
Overall, nearly every aspect of “Sorry to Bother You” lends itself to both analysis and appreciation, which is exactly what endeared me to the film.
Featured Image via Wikimedia Commons