I had been waiting to see “Sorry To Bother You” since February. Any comedy that addresses structural racism and capitalist exploitation is worth seeing in the cinema, as far as I’m concerned.
“Sorry to Bother You” is an absurdist magical realist comedy set in an alternate version of contemporary Oakland, California. I don’t know if it is because 2018 has been a particularly 90s nostalgia year, or because the director based the film on his experience in a telemarketing firm in the early 90s, but there is something particularly 90s about this film. The setting is an open office telemarketing firm that harks back to Mike Judge’s “Office Space” (1999). There is also a definite “Being John Malkovich” (2000) vibe.
Cassius (Lakeith Stanfield), a broke guy living in his uncle’s garage with his girlfriend (Tessa Thompson), gets a job in telemarketing. On the advice of a colleague, he adopts a “white voice” and manages to make so many sales that he is promoted, but promotion confronts him with the moral dilemma of collaborating with a hyper-capitalist system, throwing him directly in the path of Worry-Free owned by CEO Steve Lift (Armie Hammer) - a company that outsources slave labour to the highest bidder.
I particularly liked the way the film’s critique of contemporary racism merges with other themes without it becoming the sole message. Somehow it feels more real to show the multiple absurdities of life in a capitalist and racist society rather than picking one single dominant theme. There is an emphasis in the film that the "white voice" does not actually exist and that the voice itself is a performance of whiteness fuelled by a consumerist society. That is a particularly poignant message in the film.
There is nothing new about this genre but you cannot deny it feels very relevant. In a world where Amazon and Uber workers are protesting working conditions and Facebook is under public scrutiny for letting third party companies access private data, this film, which calls out the oppressive practices of mega-corporations, is very refreshing.
The use of the “white voice” was one of the most original concepts within the film. As Danny Glover’s character explains to him: 'It’s not what all white people sound like - there ain’t no real white voice, but it’s what they wish they sounded like. It’s what they think they’re supposed to sound like'.
In fact, the "white voice" is not just adopted by Cassius, numerous other characters adopt “white” or even “British” voices in order to make a living within the film. The use of dubbing highlights the performative nature of both race and professionalism in the workplace. The extent to which Cassius is willing to go with his performance at the expense of those around him is the key struggle for his character. The higher you rise, the more parts of yourself you have to erase, in order to fit into this white, patriarchal culture.
As students who are about to enter the workplace and start our careers, "Sorry to Bother You" asks us the question: how much of our identity are we willing to change in order to make a profit?
Edited by Eloïse Wright, Head Film Editor