The Director Boots Riley on “Sorry to Bother You” | WBEZ
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The New Yorker Radio Hour

The Director Boots Riley on “Sorry to Bother You”

Boots Riley’s directorial début, “Sorry to Bother You,” blends a dark strain of comedy with a sci-fi vision of capitalism run amok. The film’s hero, Cassius Green, is a telemarketer who rises quickly in the ranks—eventually becoming a “power caller”—after he learns to use a “white voice” on the phone, mimicking the way white people are supposed to speak. As sharp as the film is on issues of race and identity, “Sorry to Bother You” ultimately takes capitalism, and the way it exploits labor, as its target. “There were a lot of things about capitalism that were forgiven by big media companies while Obama was in office,” Riley tells The New Yorker’s Doreen St. Félix in a live interview at the New Yorker Festival. “Things that we had said we were against under Bush.” “Sorry to Bother You” is, in part, a response to that loss of focus. Riley, who is forty-seven, got his start as a rapper; for many years, he led the political hip-hop band the Coup. He traces his interest in art as activism to an incident from 1989, when police officers in San Francisco beat two children and their mother in front of a housing project. Neighbors began protesting, spilling out onto the street and chanting lyrics from Public Enemy's “Fight the Power.” “It made me see what place music could have,” Riley tells St. Félix. “I knew, This is what I had to do.”

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