Former Student Boots Riley's 'Sorry to Bother You': 'Anti-Capitalist Parable with Flair and Bite'

Monday, December 10, 2018
Photo of Boots Riley and Lakeith Stanfield talking to each other near a window

THE INDEPENDENT (LONDON) -- Riley fits snugly within the definition of artist-activist. It’s a draw he’s felt since childhood. He was born in 1971 in Chicago, to parents who had met during a student-led strike at San Francisco State University. His father volunteered as a housing and welfare rights advocate and a car industry organizer before working as a civil rights and criminal-defense lawyer.

His parents moved to Oakland, California, when Riley was six and by the time he was 15 he had joined the radical Progressive Labor Party. In 1991, he co-founded The Coup, acting as primary lyricist. Their work was deliberately confrontational, with album titles such as Kill My Landlord (1993) and Pick a Bigger Weapon (2006), although he recently dismissed the former as “a pamphlet on tape,” adding he’s now more interested in speaking to audiences who don’t directly identify with his politics.

Which is exactly what Sorry to Bother You sets out to achieve, aided by a cast of recognizable faces as Tessa Thompson and Armie Hammer also star. The film takes the familiar tropes of dystopian fiction — corporate giants as sinister authoritarian forces, for example — and places them distinctly in today’s timeline. Riley’s point is that dystopia is now, and always has been.

Photo: Boots Riley (left) and actor Lakeith Stanfield on the set of Sorry to Bother You. Photo courtesy of Annapurna Pictures.