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‘Sorry to Bother You’

“Acting white is the premise of Boots Riley’s raucous new film, Sorry to Bother You,” writes Namwali Serpell. “Cassius Green (Cash for short), played with lithe, febrile grace by Stanfield, gets a job at an Oakland telemarketing company, RegalView. After several customers hang up on him, Cash gets some advice from a co-worker named Langston (played by OG Oreo Danny Glover): “Hey young blood. Lemme give you a tip. Use your white voice.” Cash brushes him off—people say he already talks with a white voice. Langston qualifies: no, not like Will Smith, not just sounding nasal, no. To have a white voice is to sound breezy, carefree, like you don’t really need the money. “It’s what white people wish they sounded like. What they think they’re supposed to sound like.” This a smart move on Riley’s part, akin to the one Ta-Nehisi Coates picked up from James Baldwin: to describe whiteness not as an identity but as the faith that possesses “those who believe they are white.” In the film, the rhetorical trope is made literal through dubbing: Cash’s white voice is played by David Cross. As his best friend Salvador (a sweet, dry Jermaine Fowler) says, “That’s some puppet master voodoo shit.”

“Lit by California’s neon sun and neon signs, flecked with bright colors that bespeak black aesthetics of the 1980s and 1990s—think the hip-hop groups TLC and Salt-N-Peppa, or the Friday movies—Sorry to Bother You has been described as indebted to music videos. But it feels more like a brilliant cartoon to me: dubbed voices, slapstick violence, dumb jokes, over-the-top gestures. Kate Berlant is excellent as marketing consultant Diana DeBauchery, with her rolling eyes and heaving bosom. (“What is ‘capital’?” she smirks, making spastic finger quotes.) The film masterfully uses the cartoon logic of repetition too, extending certain sequences to hilarious—and discomfiting—effect.”

For more information, visit sorrytobotheryou.movie.

Category: Film