About 10 years ago, Sen. Harry Reid triggered a controversy when he said Barack Obama had become successful because he spoke with "no Negro dialect unless he wanted to have one." Outraged, critics denounced the statement (and Reid would apologize to Obama). English professor John McWhorter, who wrote Talking Black: Truths About America's Lingua Franca, came to Reid's defense, saying, "All of America, black and white, feels exactly the way Harry Reid does about the way black people talk," in an essay in which he deconstructs the notion of "talking black."
Sorry to Bother You, the new film written and directed by the Coup's Boots Riley, also takes aim at the concept of "talking black" and essentially picks up where that conversation about Reid left off. The sharp social commentary ultimately takes to task the notion that blacks must use their "white voice" to get ahead. While it comes off the rails about mid-way through, it still manages to successfully make its point and provide some terrific laughs in doing so. The movie has limited screenings on Thursday night and then opens areawide on Friday.
The film centers on Cassius "Cash" Green (Lakeith Stanfield), a guy who lives out of his uncle's garage and drives a beater car. Desperate for any kind of work, so he can catch up on his rent, he lands a job as a telemarketer. After a co-worker advises him to use his "white voice," he finds he can more successfully appeal to the customers he calls. In an ingenious move, Riley cast actor and comedian David Cross, who never physically appears in the film, to provide Cassius' white voice. Comedian and actor Patton Oswalt does the honors for Mr. Blank (Omari Hardwick), another rising star at the company.
Mr. Blank introduces Cassius to Steve Lift (Armie Hammer), the wealthy businessman who owns Worry Free, a company that offers a lifetime guarantee of food and shelter in exchange for permanent servitude. As Cassius becomes more and more successful, he gets caught between sympathizing with his friends who are attempting to unionize and fight companies like Worry Free and simply embracing the lifestyle of the rich and famous.
One night at a party, Steve tells Cassius about his devious plan to maximize his profits at Worry Free. The plan involves literally turning workers into animals. At this point, the movie, which admittedly comes off as science fiction from the start, veers into the realm of make-believe. It subsequently loses something in the process (and it doesn't help that the special effects are extremely low-budget). And yet, much like early Spike Lee films, Sorry to Bother You has so much going for it that even if it falters at times, it doesn't detract from its inventiveness, and it suggests that Riley is just getting started.