George Orwell’s dark dystopian vision of the future – 1984 – is still as relevant today as when it was first written in the 1940s.
Unfortunately, Boots Riley’s new science-fiction comedy Sorry To Bother You may well end up the same way – highlighting as it does, the widespread oppression of low-paid workers and erosion of working conditions in 21st century America.
Focusing on one particular black person, telemarketer Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield), the film is a rollicking, adrenaline-fuelled foray into the capitalistic system: and the systemic racism and oppression that accompanies it in modern-day America.
Cassius Green is broke and living in his Uncle’s garage: literally one step away from homelessness.
He owes four months rent and with no job, his curiosity is piqued by a TV ad for ‘Worry Free’, which promises free food and accommodation in return for a lifetime of servitude.
Encouraged by his best friend, Salvador (Jermaine Fowler) who already works for an associated telemarketing company, Cassius jumps at the opportunity and soon accelerates up the sales ladder – securing the ultimate job as a ‘power seller’ for Worry Free.
Elevated to the top one per cent of salesmen, the payoff for Cassius is mind-blowing – as he pulls in megabucks, moves into a new apartment and buys a flash new Maserati.
However, in the ultimate ‘Faustian’ bargain, he is also selling his soul to the devil: while losing the friendship of his workmates and even the love of his girlfriend Detroit (Tessa Thompson).
The film, while chaotic and quite unreal at times, remains a clever and satirical statement on race, class, labour, money and art, with Cassius the unwitting ‘poster boy’ who must navigate through it all.
The most sinister part of the film is towards the end, when Worry Free founder and ultimate bad guy Steve Lift (Armie Hammer) reveals his true agenda, and what really becomes of the people who work for him.
Throughout the chaos however, Cassius retains his dignity – despite the many hoops he has to jump through – which include adopting a ‘white voice’ for his telemarketing calls – since the average American responds better to this.
Cassius follows the company sales mantra ‘Stick to the Script’ (STTS), throughout – and there is also a great performance by Danny Glover as Langston; one of the older telemarketers who has seen it all and ‘been there, done that.’
He is also the one who advises Cassius to adopt a white voice on the phone – a symbolic statement on the ‘slave mentality’ and racism that still exists in the US.
Indeed, it appears the one way for black people to truly succeed in a white world is to become, figuratively and literally, white.
Sorry to Bother You is now showing at Luna Leederville.
By Mike Peeters