A few weeks ago, I watched Sorry to Bother You, a comedy about a black man who adopts a white accent to succeed at his job and subsequently finds himself in a moral dilemma between making money and being an ally to "the cause".
This movie was… weird. Like, hella weird. After all the hype around this movie, I wondered whether I was just missing something that everybody else was getting. I felt that the movie was a bit slow, and I felt like I was waiting for the plot to start the entire time. Maybe the bizarreness of the movie just made the plot a bit disorienting and hard to follow.
However, I’m conflicted because I can’t say that I disliked the movie. I think that while I wasn’t necessarily entertained by the movie, I appreciated it on an intellectual level. This movie contains themes about capitalism, class, and race. It talks about code switching, allyship, and the possibility and practicality of living by one’s morals in a capitalist hellscape. While I won’t go into every theme in the movie, I will talk about an important takeaway I got from this movie.
In one scene, after the protagonist had just discovered his company's scheme to turn humans into horses, Steve Lift, the CEO, calmly explains to him that he’s not turning humans into horses just for the hell of it, but to increase productivity. He doesn’t even explain it in a remotely villainous way; he says it matter-of-factly, as if he were merely announcing his company’s 5-year plan. See? He’s not evil! He’s just a capitalist!
That scene, to me, was the movie’s most profound comment on the nature of capitalism. Capitalism is INHERENTLY violent. Capitalism is inherently exploitive. Nothing in capitalism is malicious, per se… it is merely profit-motivated. To people on the margins of society, the way our society works and the things that our society does – namely the government and corporations – can seem outlandish, grotesque, and simply illogical at times. But to capitalists, their actions make perfect sense. Turning people into horses makes perfect sense. When people make outcries against the injustices of a capitalist society, they fail to realize that the system is not “broken”; in fact, it is working by its very design. Actions in pursuit of profit, regardless of how morally abhorrent, will always be logical in a capitalist framework. Indeed, turning people into horses was only the next step in increasing productivity and profit. It was not horse people that violated Lift’s moral code and sensibilities, but rather workers who dared demand higher wages and disrupt the workplace.
Sorry to Bother You exaggerates its plotline, but it’s one that we see nonetheless in everyday society. People who demand higher wages and a more equal society are constantly called “unrealistic” and “irrational”. People are constantly told to accept inequality and injustice as an inevitable, natural, and even positive feature of life. In the movie and in real life, equality offends a capitalist society’s moral sensibilities; inequality doesn’t. Sorry to Bother You’s use of hyperbole is thought-provoking and illuminates the realities and underlying nature of capitalism. The reactions of speechlessness it draws from its audience are akin to the ones we feel when our government decides to spend billions of dollars on a Space Force that sounds like it came out of a science fiction novel when people can’t afford to eat. Corporations aren’t turning people into horses, but they may as well be.
In sum, I think that if you can get past the weirdness, you can appreciate Sorry to Bother You and its merits. I’ve seen mostly polarizing reactions to this movie – either you hate it or you love it – and I can definitely see why. Some people have asked whether Sorry to Bother You is this year’s Get Out, and while I wouldn’t agree with that statement, I think that this movie makes important comments on class and race, and I understand that such comments won’t always be delivered in ways that are palatable to mainstream tastes. This is a movie that you really have to unpack, and perhaps one that you can only appreciate in hindsight.