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Tessa Thompson and Lakeith Stanfield in Sorry to Bother You
Annapurna Pictures

Everybody, stop saying Sorry to Bother You is the new Get Out

Boots Riley’s surrealist masterpiece is a smart, essential film that doesn’t shy away from race – that’s where the similarities end

Boots Riley’s surrealist satire Sorry To Bother You hit theatres in the US two weeks ago, offering something deliciously sharp in its criticism of capitalism, and bringing audiences a whole host of “what the fuck” moments throughout.

The premise is simple: down-on-his-luck protagonist Cassius ‘Cash’ Green (played by Lakeith Stanfield – incidentally, of Get Out fame) delves into the dark world of corporate living when he takes a job as a telemarketer, and realises the power of using his ‘white voice’. But success isn’t as simple as being promoted, and things get weird pretty quickly. It’s only to be expected in a comedy-dystopia that tackles indentured slavery, economic injustice, and privilege.

At first glance, the comparison to Jordan Peele’s box office hit horror Get Out seems obvious. Both films refuse to shy away from race and structural violence, choosing to integrate it into the narrative instead. Riley’s Cash, like Peele’s Chris, is microscopically aware of his blackness. It’s tied to the state of his finances, where he lives, how he’s perceived, and how much he cares about what he witnesses as the film goes on. The black heroes of contemporary cinema don’t stumble around in a state of colour-blind ignorance. It isn’t demanded from them anymore. But if this is the only reason we’re choosing to compare Sorry To Bother You and Get Out, then it’s a shallow one.

It’s true that both titles, as one Twitter user put it, sit firmly in the genre of great black films. They’re both new for what they bring to the industry in terms of diversity and content, both are unpredictable in their explosive third acts, and both are edge-of-your-seat exciting for what they do for their individual genres. But they aren’t part of the same genre. Sorry To Bother You’s absurd, kinetic energy might provoke the same whiplash as Get Out’s sobering, psychological horror did, and you’ll probably stumble out of the cinema feeling the same, heady rush of experiencing something new, and mad, and stupidly good – but that’s where the similarity ends.

A surrealist satire that deconstructs what’s worth laughing at like Sorry To Bother You should be allowed to take its place alongside similar underdog greats like BrazilRepo Man, and Science of Sleep. It’s a part of that rich, wacky tradition. The whole point of surrealism is that something is strange, and interesting in what it makes this strangeness contemplate. Riley’s film operates in the genre of the absurd in a way that Peele’s Get Out never intended, as a horror.

When Tessa Thompson, co-star to Stanfield in Sorry To Bother Youtalked about how important it is that Stanfield wants to take that cultural place, of embracing absurdity and weirdness in his career, she reminded us that he is an outlier, making that position accessible for artists of colour simply by existing. Surrealism, of course, isn’t exclusively for white people – but for so long, in the embrace of the Spike Jonzes and Wes Andersons of the world, it’s seemed that way. That’s what makes something like Sorry To Bother You doubly exciting: it’s conscious of what it achieves in its absurdity, just as much as it’s conscious of the dangers of late-stage capitalism.

The first rule Cash is given at the telemarketing firm is a simple one: he has to ‘stick to the script.’ The first rule we’re given as Riley’s audience is to be aware of what it means to do that, as workers in the system, as viewers of his masterpiece, and, maybe inadvertently, as viewers of socially critical art. In so many different ways, Sorry To Bother You has a lot to say about that: human beings, and how our complacency can give us a herd mentality. It emphasises the importance of developing a critical consciousness. It begs us to go beyond lazy, homogenised thinking – the kind that’s got some of us comparing two different films, and insisting they’re basically the same, just because they both have black directors and a black cast.   

This lazy reaction to both films proves, ironically, just how necessary and groundbreaking they both are (in their very different ways). Both Sorry To Bother You and Get Out insist on interrogating our reality. They trailblaze for a future that’s full of similarly critical films. In that future, we we might finally have developed the critical consciousness to match.

Sorry to Bother You is out now in the US; UK release dates are yet to be announced