Sorry to Bother You director and scriptwriter Boots Riley wanted to do more than make a successful first feature length film – he wanted to send an important message – one against what is widely regarded as the best economic system - capitalism.
“Art is just a medium for communication, and for me I use it as a way to communicate the issues I’m passionate about,” said the 47-year-old Boots, who spoke to Young Post while in Hong Kong promoting his film at the Sundance Film Festival.
Boots is best known as the rap legend that founded the political hip-hop group The Coup back in 1991, where he started fighting back against racial oppression and speaking out against the systematic flaws of capitalism. I’m Sorry to Bother You, sets out to do just that, but through a whole new lens.
“Capitalism ravages most of the world,” Boots said. “In the US, we have a system where the people making the wealth have no say in what happens with the money. Everything is controlled by a few people on top. There needs to be a new system; call it socialism, call it communism, call it whatever you want. You’re either sharing or you’re not sharing.”
He expanded on this further: “With capitalism, you must have unemployed workers in order to keep wages low. If there are no unemployed workers, you lose the ability to control workers. Therefore, poverty is necessary under capitalism.”
Though Boots’ ideas seem radical, they are eloquently expressed in I’m Sorry to Bother You, which is the story of a poor young African American by the name of Cassius or ‘Cash’, who goes from living in poverty to climbing the corporate ladder as a telemarketer by using his “white voice”.
Soon, Cash is forced to choose between money and material wealth, and maintaining his values or giving up on his integrity. According to Boots, this is the dilemma forced upon everyone within a capitalist society.
Eventually, the film forces us to answer the question: where will a thriving capitalist society – so focused on efficiency, productivity, and material wealth, eventually lead us?
“I believe that socialism and communism just need to be done right,” said Boots, referring to failed communist systems like the Soviet Union. “It’s hard to get it right, and it will take time, but just because one country said ‘we’re sharing’ but it turns out they weren’t, does that mean we should just give up on sharing?”
He went so far as to cite China as an example. “For all the mistakes China made along the way under communism, without that Cultural Revolution China would be one big Haiti right now.”
Boots hope that his film, if nothing else, gets people to question the status quo. His message to young artists is to keep working towards their dreams, rather than work a job they hate for the sake of a paycheck.
“Doctors are necessary because they keep us alive; art is necessary because it makes life worth living,” Boots said. “Nothing is guaranteed about any career; every few years there’s an economic crash, people lose their jobs and their house and they are shocked, because they thought everything was guaranteed. So you’d better be doing something that makes you happy if you still have a chance of losing it all anyway.
“You’ll be much happier being broke doing something you love doing than something you hate and making money.”