With positive reviews from top critics and a 95 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, Sorry to Bother You—Boots Riley’s bold directorial debut—is on its way to becoming one of the hottest films of 2018. But what went into creating the film, and were there any doubts upon release day?
“I wasn’t nervous, because this is the movie I wanted to make,” Riley told CASSIUS ahead of its release. “I might as well f*ck up my vision as opposed to doing well executing your vision. That’s a better contribution.”
See what else he had to say during our brief conversation below. Sorry to Bother You is in theaters everywhere now.
CASSIUS: As a first-time director, once Sundance jumped behind this film and it was like, “Okay, we’re doing this,” were you nervous about releasing it or how it would be received ?
Boots Riley: I wasn’t nervous because this is the movie I wanted to make. It wasn’t like, “I wanna make any movie! I hope they’ll let me make one!” Or “Maybe they’ll let me make a buddy cop movie! What movie can I make?” No. “I wanna make this movie.” Obviously as an artist in general and definitely in this process you take feedback and notes and revise and all that, but it was in the effort to make a movie with this voice, so I wasn’t worried about it.
I think had I done one just out of film school when I was younger, I wouldn’t be able to rely on the experience I’ve had with my own stuff, with my music, which is understanding that we’re all trying to figure it out. Nobody knows what the f*ck they’re doing, nobody has the answer, and that I might as well f*ck up my vision as opposed to doing well executing your vision. That’s a better contribution.
I think also the process took long enough that I could be relatively sure of myself with it. There were times while we were actually filming and I was like, “Wait a minute… This is a weird movie. I don’t know if I led people down the wrong path right here.” But then sitting in the edit room and realizing that the reason that I thought that it was weird or that anyone would think it’s weird is because it’s different, and that always feels weird, for something to be different than the regular conventions of art that we have.
C.: Sorry to Bother You is so many things. It’s dark comedy, it’s sci-fi, it takes you out of reality, but then also makes you think about our present reality in its themes of capitalism and activism. What impact do you hope this film has in our current sociopolitical climate?
B.R.: I don’t know. After July 13 we’ll see what kind of impact it will have, but I think that what’s happening is that there’s a movement out there, and all of these new directors of color and people of color being on film, it’s not because people texted #OscarsSoWhite on Twitter. It’s because there was the Black Lives Matter movement and there was Occupy, all of these things that speak to the fact that people want a better world, a more just world, and that people are starting to organize around it—and art better respond to that.
It just so happens that I’ve always been talking about the same stuff, so [with] my film, there didn’t have to be someone like, “Hey let’s get something in there [and make sure] the film addresses that.” That’s usually why Hollywood is about five or 10 years late. They always have slang that kind of went away but then it kind of comes back because it got in some movie and somebody said a joke with it or something like that. It just happens everything lined up to the precipice of what’s happening right now. There’s things discussed in the movie that have to do with tactics forcing the hand of power, and maybe this will be part of that discussion that’s happening, and hopefully people can organize and organizers can use this as a means of discussion about their campaigns that they’re involved in.