Snubbed by The Academy: Celebrating Boots Riley’s Sorry To Bother You as the Best Picture released in 2018…
by: Michael Shields
I make every effort I can not to get worked up by the decisions made by those charged with the complex task of judging art. It’s common knowledge by now that the Grammys, for instance, do not authentically represent the most impressive music released on any given year. The Oscars, too, while less inept overall, suffers from a similar shortcoming in that many of the best works within the film industry fail to gain recognition year in and year out. It’s a fool’s errand, I remind myself, and a waste of energy to fret over these matters as with award ceremonies at this level there is an immense amount of politics involved, and the money spent to champion certain films over others amongst voters is substantial. With all that said, I found it infuriating that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences refrained from recognizing one of the most novel and artistic films to be released in 2018, Sorry To Bother You. In declining to show appreciation for this uniquely thought-provoking piece of art, a huge opportunity was missed.
Sorry To Bother You is a dark comedy written and directed by rapper/activist Boots Riley that tracks an African-American telemarketer (played by Atlanta’s Lakeith Stanfield) who employs a white accent (a comforting sound to many a customer’s ears) to get ahead at his job. This premise, while surely irregular, was the vehicle in which Riley used to make profound and important social commentary about capitalism and race. For Sorry To Bother You is not only a science fiction fantasy film, it is also a film rooted in the real-life ills of America, in its many deep-seated shortcomings. The title of the film — on its surface — refers to the phrase a telemarketer wields when first contacting their prey, but there is a double meaning at play. “Sorry To Bother You” implies that many Americans have a hard time, or would rather not be bothered in, discussing and confronting the more crucial issues we face as a country. Life is much easier, for many in positions of privilege, when not disturbed by those who attempt to confront America’s immense imperfections. Throughout Sorry to Bother You, Riley aptly uses his film’s title to call out those who would rather not be bothered as the enablers they are to a broken system that disenfranchises so many in need.
As remarkable it is to consider, Sorry To Bother You is Riley’s debut feature film, but his ability to confront pressing social concerns in such a novel and effective way makes more sense if you’re already familiar with this talented artist. Riley not only drew from his own experiences working as a telemarketer where he utilized a different “white” voice to make a living, but he was also galvanized by his many years as an activist, where he meticulously examined and admonished the effects America’s love affair with capitalism has had on his community. Sorry To Bother you speaks to the black experience in America, and to Riley’ experience, in a radical and moving way. It isn’t often that a surreal fantasy film also serves as a call to action, but Sorry To Bother you is just that important, a movie that shines a light on the need for workers to organize and fight for their rights, while calling out a system that takes advantage of the very people it feigns to safe-keep.