I recently saw "Sorry To Bother You" with my boyfriend. I thought it was going to be a comedy, OK, I did NOT think it was going to end up as deep and satirical as it really was. For all of you who have seen it and who think ill about it, I urge you to take what you saw with a grain of salt. It wasn't necessarily about the viewing aspects (which so many movies are known for), but more about reading between the lines. I decided to do something similar to what I did when "Black Panther" came out and write about the symbolism and covert messages in the movie that so many people probably mistook as just simple plot lines.
WARNING: This article contains spoilers
1. Three channels on television
As Cassius, the main character, was flipping through the channels several times throughout the movie, we could only see that there were three channels that appeared.
One: "I Got the S#*@ Kicked Out Of Me," a show where people voluntarily go onto national TV and get beat up. In the movie, it was the most-watched show in the entire world.
Two: a channel called NTV, where a show similar to MTV's Cribs was playing about WorryFree, which was a company that promised a life free of paying bills, full of food, and housing, as long as people worked there for their entire lives.
Three: a news channel that broadcasts the riots from the "Left-Eye" activist group, who wants to get rid of WorryFree because of its slavery-like practices.
This can easily be related to what real TV is like in our everyday lives. We are constantly watching the news, to see new riots, scandals in the Presidency, or what tragedies are happening around the world. They're also about brainless crap, similar to "I Got The S#*@ Kicked Out Of Me" that really makes no sense at all, and people somehow find joy in it. And of course, there's the commercialized section of our TV's, where companies are making millions off of consumer-driven products. A lot of these products are made by laborers, who are exploited beyond measure, yet so many people are unaware.
2. The cross-shaped pill dispenser
At the beginning of the movie, Cassius was talking to his uncle (played by Terry Crews) about how his rent is due. Crews' character admonishes Cassius for not giving him the rent he was due for 4 months and mentioned about how his diabetes was acting up. Afterward, he takes a pill from a cross-shaped pill dispenser around his neck.
I feel like this is symbolic for various reasons, but the one I'd like to point out is the relationship between blacks and Christianity. Everyone knows that prior to the slave-trade and European invasion of Africa, different countries, tribes, and villages in Africa had their own native religions. However, many of these native religions were seen as "demonic" in the eyes of white and Spaniard Europeans, which in turn, caused the invaders to instill Christianity into the Africans, salves, and African-Americans. It's interesting, however, that many blacks use their religion as a "gateway" to certain things. I remember my friends and I had a conversation one day about how our parents (who were immigrants) treated religion, and the fact of the matter is, they pressed upon it very heavily.
For many blacks, there is no such thing as a mental disorder. There is no such thing as a tribulation that one may be going through. If you're feeling depressed, it's because you're not praying enough. If you're financially unstable, it's because you haven't dedicated your whole life to the word of God. If you're single or cannot have children, it's because you don't have a close enough relationship with the Lord for him to bless you. If you have cancer, it's the praying that does the real healing, not the medical professionals. It's ideas like this that can be borderline absurd if you really think about it.
The truth of the matter is, many black people use their religion as a way to deal with MOST (if not ALL) of their problems. And I do agree, it's OK to call upon the name of the Lord to help you through a difficult time in your life, but things require your time and energy, too. God and religion isn't just some genie and every time you pray, then your prayer will be answered. It's just not what the bible preaches. So many blacks have this idea and mindset and instead of dealing with their situations, they blame lack of religion or demonic spirits for everything that goes wrong. Terry Crews' lines here exemplifies just how some black people view religion.
3. WorryFree is not just modern-day slavery
The obvious symbolism behind WorryFree is that it's basically modern day slavery. People are being exploited for their labor, in exchange for a place to sleep and food. Sounds kind of messed up, right? But WorryFree can also have a different symbolism. To me, it was more like a jail. I mean, even when they first showed what it was in the movie, it literally looked like a prison. The outside had the barbed wires and high walls, the inside had gross-looking food on trays, and there were at least four roommates in one room, that really resembled a jail cell.
Yet, after seeing a commercial for WorryFree, Cassius asked his girlfriend, "have you ever thought about living WorryFree?" These words are a sad testament to many black men out there. Rather than deal with the issues in their lives at the moment, it's almost as if jail seems like the better choice. For those who grow up in rough communities, street life, gangs, and drugs are all they know. But jail seems like a safe oasis from everything. You don't have to worry about bills, where your next meal is coming from, if you're going to have a place to sleep, etc. And even though the horrors of jail are pretty immense, it's sad for so many to even consider that it might be better than how they're living now.
Either it shows how bad these environments are and how they need immediate fixes, or it shows how palatable jails are... and that breaking the law and permanently ruining one's life seems "worth it."
4. Use of the "white voice"
The "white voice" scenes were in most of the trailers, so I'm sure most people know what I'm talking about and how they used it in the film. Maybe even some people can reflect on how they've used their own "white voices" while on the phone, during an interview, or giving the speech. Although you can't subject a way of speaking to a particular race, most people believe that speaking "proper" or with "correct grammar" is speaking "white."
Cassius, who is new to his telemarketing job, realizes this after a coworker of his enlightens him on this phenomena. Suddenly, after using his white voice, he was able to make more sales than ever before. The people on the other end of the line, however, have no idea that the person they're speaking to is actually a black man from Oakland, California. This exemplifies how there are still some prejudices in everyday society. Only when Cassius used his "white voice" was he finally able to succeed in his job. It's symbolic that many believe that they have to "act white" in order to have a well-paying job or to be successful in society.
Aside from this, it's interesting that when Cassius finally was promoted as a "Power Caller," he could ONLY use his white voice and it almost became permanent (i.e. when he woke up speaking in his white voice and had to readjust himself). Cassius speaking in his white voice all the time is the equivalent to him being in the sunken place. He was being stripped of one part of his black identity, and was OK with it, as long as it meant making money. I'll explain more about how Cassius was a huge sell-out later. It just goes to show that so many minorities feel as though they need to strip themselves of their culture and identities in order to fit into the white-dominated society we live in. So many things are "whitewashed" now, and I feel as though minorities should embrace their cultures, instead of willingly giving it up to please the majority.
5. The "Floyd Mayweather" Complex
The "Floyd Mayweather" Complex is a mindset of a lot of black individuals who come from rough environments and rise up in fame and fortune. However, a lot of these individuals are too prideful to give their fortunes back to their community. They believe that if they made so much money then other blacks can also dig themselves out of their misfortunes and do the same. Basically, they're selfish. Cassius seems to go through his own Floyd Mayweather complex after he becomes a power caller. Although he is able to pay his uncle back the rent he is due, get a new apartment, and buy a brand new car, he seems to forget about the union strikes that his fellow co-workers are part of (and that he was once part of, too). Now that he makes a hefty salary, he believes that he doesn't have to be in the union and help his coworkers, because achieved what he wanted: money. He even says at one point that he doesn't need his coworkers and friends anymore because he "got his own" and made it with his own efforts. But in reality... wasn't it his friends that helped him get his job? Wasn't it his friends that helped him become a better seller and ultimately make so many sales? The "Floyd Mayweather" Complex is so common, but those who possess it always forget those who had helped them when times were rough.
6. Detroit's art show
Detroit's artistic abilities are clearly shown throughout the movie, from her earrings that exclaim phrases like, "Tell Homeland Security We Are The Bomb" to her vandalism on WorryFree posters. She's an iconic figure in the movie and helps drive the symbolism of the movie to new levels. For her performance in her own art show, she stands in front of her crowd in a leather belt bikini suit and huge sunglasses, and asks them to throw used cell phones, balloons filled with sheep blood, and bullet casings at her, while reciting an iconic line from "The Last Dragon."
Right before, she had a small monologue about how the world is exploiting Africa for its resources, yet it's not getting any income back. It's a topic I talked about in my "Black Panther" article: how first world countries like America and China are profiting off of cell phones, which contain Coltan (a mineral found in the Congo), the Congolese country itself is riddled with war, rape crimes, and slave labor. Just like how the dwellers (more like inmates, honestly) of WorryFree are being exploited, a lot of workers from Africa are being exploited for their labor and not getting benefiting from it at all. In my opinion, the used cell phones, obviously represent the Coltan exploited in Africa, and also how first world citizens take many of their electronics for granted. The bullet casings represent the wars that go on in these countries where exploitation happens, and the sheep blood represents the horrific rapes that also happen.
Another thing to mention is that the line from "The Last Dragon" is from the girlfriend of one of the main characters in the movie, in which she states, "And in the end Eddie, you know what? You're nothing but a misguided midget asshole with dreams of ruling the world... yeah also from Kew Gardens... and also getting by on my tits!"
This quote isn't just the MOST iconic breakup line in the books, but it also talks about how Eddie took advantage of his girlfriend and was only successful because of his abuse towards her and others. Comparing it to capitalism, it shows just how far people will go in order to be financially successful. They'd be willing to step on everything and everyone in order to get what they want. Essentially, they're willing to put people through the worst situations possible in order to make some money. Of course, there's a clear parallel between that idea and what first-world nations have been doing to so many other countries where cheap labor is exploited.
7. Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy is heavy in school textbooks (which can be good and bad)
I remember being in AP U.S. History my junior year and learning about the Civil Rights Movements of the 1960's. There was almost an entire page dedicated to Martin Luther King Jr. and his efforts, yet only one sentence about Malcolm X or Angela Davis, which had the connotation of them being vigilantes. I went home to ask my mother what that was about and she said to me, "it's because those textbooks want us to glorify King, and not the others who also made big contributions to blacks."
This always stuck with me and it made me wonder how much our textbooks were telling the truth. I'm big on conspiracy theories, but this one always seemed to stump me. We're taught so many different things about our nation's history, but a lot of it could be a big exaggeration or faked. I'm not saying Martin Luther King Jr. was a bad person (if you have read theories about who he was as a person and you have a different point of view, by all means, text me and we can have a nice chat about it), but I'm just saying... somethings are over exaggerated.
In the movie, after Cassius finds out about WorryFree's real intentions of genetically modifying all of the inmates into mutant horse-humans, the founder of the company tells him that he was chosen to be the horses' own Martin Luther King Jr. He was supposed to be a bridge between the horses and WorryFree for equality and justice, even though he'd actually be working under WorryFree the entire time. A lot of people feel as though this was MLK's true legacy.
It's a big conspiracy that he was really working for the government and was trying to teach the African Americans how to be "submissive" and "peaceful" because that was evidently the "right" way they to gain equality. Whereas others, like Malcolm X, took an entirely different approach to how the African Americans can have equality in America. And maybe that's why so many textbooks don't glorify him. So often, racist people WANT African Americans to stop talking about the horrors of slavery or to be submissive about their inequality. In a sense, Malcolm X didn't think that sit-ins or peaceful protests were going to do anything to help the efforts of blacks in America.
Cassius would be very much like King in that he would probably put these peaceful protests for them to gain better working hours or equality under the U.S. law, but he'd really just be a fraud. At the end of the movie, after realizing how messed up the whole thing was, he decided to go about getting justice in a not-so-peaceful way. And although it didn't do much about WorryFree in the moment, Cassius was still able to see some of his efforts get recognized and people were able to wake up about what was happening in the world, much like the efforts of the Black Panther Party and black nationalists.
8. N**** s***
Wow. OK. Um. This scene was a little wild. I remember looking over at my boyfriend in the movie theater and seeing his face go stone cold and his mouth drop a little as he was watching the scene unfold on the screen.
The scene was basically in the middle of a WorryFree company party, where Cassius was the guest and he was using his "white voice" the entire time. After a while, the owner of the company says to Cassius that he can stop using his white voice and that maybe since he's black, he can spit a few rap verses.
This was strike number one. If any of you haven't read my "46 Things You Seriously Need To Stop Saying To Black People" article, you definitely should. It's worth the read. But in it, I clearly explain that just because someone is black, it doesn't mean that they're necessarily going to fit into the "black stereotypes." It doesn't mean that they play basketball really well, or can rap, or know every other black person on the planet. It doesn't mean that their hair is fake or that they all talk in AAVE. It doesn't mean they all grew up in the "ghetto" or that their favorite meal is fried chicken and watermelon, with a side of Kool-Aid. No... just... NO. These are disgusting stereotypes, honestly, and just because the color of my skin has a bit more melanin than yours, it doesn't mean I necessarily fit into the stereotype.
So the fact that the owner of WorryFree even asked him to rap is disgusting, and it shows how little he values Cassius as an individual, who's just really good at making calls because he so happens to use his white voice.
Next, Cassius finally goes up and raps and at first, he's saying some corny rhymes about his name is Cash and how he likes to... you get the idea. But the crowd of white folks doesn't seem to be too amused. So Cassius pulls out the famous line from the entire movie and belts out, "NIGGA SHIT. NIGGA SHIT. NIGGA. NIGGA. NIGGA SHIT" over and over and over. Suddenly, the crowd goes wild and all of the little white men and women start repeating what he says, and they finally acknowledge him as being "amazing."
There are so many things wrong with this, and I applaud Boots Riley for doing this so effectively.
First, anyone who is not black should really not be saying the word "nigga." I'm not sure how many times this has to be explained to people, but at the end of the day, some people still don't get it. I don't want to hear about how your mom is 12% black on her dad's side or how you're culturally black, even though you're ancestry is from Italy.
If you're NOT BLACK, DO NOT SAY NIGGA.
Literally, just a few months ago, I had to tell a group of people this when I was hanging out with my friends and they said I was "overreacting" and making a big deal out of the situation.
But other races using the word isn't something personal. It's racial.
Black people have reclaimed the word after it was used in a dehumanizing way from slave masters, so we have a right to use the word. Y'ALL who think that it's just a new phrase like "lit" do not have a right to use it, because it's not a word that you can just say anytime you feel like it.
Secondly, it's so hilarious how satirical this movie is. Cassius spitting that line over and over is literally what modern day rap music sounds like these days. Go turn on your radio to the rap/hip-hop stations and tell me that I'm lying. I dare you.
No, but seriously. It's sad and the fact that the ignorance people in the audience were reciting it makes it even truer. I feel like rap artists make music these days just to please the greater audience in the media. There's no substance to it. It's all about OD-ing on drugs, sex with prostitutes, shooting up police cars, racking up money, showing off your 2.4 million dollar ring. Stuff that most people don't actually do, but rap really seems to glorify all of these things. It's just "nigga shit," as Cassius said. It's the "nigga shit" that so many people think that blacks do because they're ignorant. But it's things that in reality, most people don't do. Again, it's all back to stereotypes and how people perceive us.
It really just shows that black people are just entertainment these days. We have basketball stars, singers, reality stars, and rappers who are all controlled by this capitalistic and racially driven-media force. It's really, really sad.
I thoroughly enjoyed writing this article as much as I enjoyed watching this film. I urge everyone to see it again and support our brother, Boots Riley. I also urge everyone to take away the dark and satirical messages that were present in this film. There are probably so many more symbols that I missed, but "Sorry To Bother You" was really a masterpiece. I love a good film with a sprinkle of jokes and satire to drive points home. I hope that it gains more popularity soon. It's a film I think everyone should watch and can have different perspectives on. Hopefully, it'll make us think a little more about the world we live in and what steps we can take to make it better.