Spoilers for Sorry to Bother You ahead
The inevitable arrival of the 4th of July brings with it an equally inevitable insistence on celebrating the heroics of the great and noble men who brought this “great” country of ours to the forefront of international prominence. Every single year, a new line of impressionable youngsters is trained to believe in a group of heroes who could do no wrong as they brought down the greatest empire in the world and created a new nation in God’s image. This kind of hero worship is not only immoral, it’s one-sided. It convinces us that the Founding Fathers are worth remembering because they had no flaws of their own. In turn, this indoctrinates anyone who’s willing to listen into believing that the image they should aspire to in life is that of the white man.
But the cold, hard truth is that that’s not the America we know anymore. Today, we champion diversity and welcome viewpoints from all walks of life. The problem is that there are still plenty who think that American now is the same America of 1776, and, as such, are willing to ensure that it stays that way. Our current reality is one in which the so-called “American Dream,” the popular belief that ambition and a strong work ethic can and will pay off in droves for those who are willing to exercise both to the fullest extent, is still egregiously used to misdirect people into believing in a financial fantasy. Day by day, the ingrained myth that is American capitalism allows those with financial power to strip those who feed their success of any kind of voice or identity. Subservients are tasked with remaining cogs in a machine that benefits very few. So the question is, why should we celebrate the past this weekend when there’s so much wrong with the present that it has created? And with that in mind, I can’t think of a film that actively probes this question, and has more fun doing it, better than Sorry to Bother You
White Voice as Financial Success as White Supremacy
Boots Riley’s satirical denouncement of capitalism engages with the factors that allow it to thrive while also demonstrating how easily it’s able to quell the revolutionary movements intent on dismantling it. The film centers around Cassius “Cash” Green (LaKeith Stanfield
), a young African American man who has recently taken up a job as a telemarketer at RegalView. Thanks to some learned wisdom from his seasoned co-worker, Langston (Danny Glover
), Cash quickly discovers a lucrative secret to rising through the ranks of his profession while his co-workers struggle to make end’s meet and eventually decide to form a labor union to combat corporate oppression at the hands of their employer. The secret in question: using a “white voice.”
According to Langston, a white voice is not as simple as changing the inflection of one’s voice: “It’s sounding like you don’t have a care. Got your bills paid. You’re happy about your future. You’re about ready to jump in your Ferrari out there after you get off this call.” In short, a white voice is meant to reflect what his clients “think they’re supposed to sound like.” Within the context of the film, it’s necessary for those who employ it to assume the presence of someone who embodies success, which, in turn, refers to an embodiment of the callous and insensitive attitudes that America’s minorities are met with as a result of capitalism. In essence, it is the voluntary performance of white privilege and, to a certain extent, white supremacy.
Sorry to Bother You