Sorry to Bother You ★★½

Cult indie rapper Boots Riley's feature-length debut, Sorry to Bother You, is a satire about the desperation of being down and out in America when you're a person of color. Which is to say, the film knows what's real—though “real” isn't the right word to attribute to this sci-fi comedy whatsit that takes place in an alternate-reality version of Oakland where everywhere you turn is an advertisement touting Worry Free Living, a voluntary forced-labor system.

The film's greatest gag occurs at a particularly wild and knotty intersection of class and race. Inside the mansion of Worry Free's smarmy CEO, Steve Lift (Armie Hammer), Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield) is asked to rap for a crowd of white people. Except Cassius can't rap, and in a moment of desperation—fearing that he might lose his job—he yells out the n-word over and over again, to the almost rabid delight of every single person in the room.

This scene is, on its surface, about the social contracts that make for better societies but which people struggle to uphold or revel in subverting. But its true genius, at once sad and perverse, resides in the way the camera reads the room: not so nonplussed—at least not as much as Cassius is—by a bunch of white people using a dude-bro's palatial house of horrors as their safe space to thrill over what civilized society tells them is unutterable.

Read the rest of my Slant Magazine review here.