Boots Riley talks 'Sorry to Bother You,' critiquing Spike Lee, and working on Guillermo del Toro's horror series (exclusive)

Boots Riley talks ‘Sorry to Bother You,’ critiquing Spike Lee, and working on Guillermo del Toro’s horror series
Boots Riley talks ‘Sorry to Bother You,’ critiquing Spike Lee, and working on Guillermo del Toro’s horror series

From Black Panther to Widows, BlackKklansman to Blindspotting, 2018 has been a massive year for black cinema and Boots Riley’s debut feature Sorry to Bother You can be counted amongst this fraternity.

The colourful political satire is set in an alternate reality and centres on Cassius (Lakeith Stanfield) a black telemarketer whose social and economic status improves after learning a trick to the trade that lifts him into a corrupt but lucrative level of business and commerce.

It’s a rousing statement against the class system still prevalent in the US as well as the economic discrimination it creates (especially for those who aren’t white), and Riley believes it’s a blunt examination that not enough filmmakers are exploring these days.

“There is no idea of economic exploitation happening [in film], or class analysis,” the director tells Yahoo Movies UK. “So many radicals hide in academia and art and that’s fine but then we make these worlds that are so different.

<em>Sorry to Bother You</em> is the debut from Boots Riley starring Tessa Thompson and Lakeith Stanfield.
Sorry to Bother You is the debut from Boots Riley starring Tessa Thompson and Lakeith Stanfield.

He’s referring to the way we more often see class exploration through science-fiction or fantasy, like in The Hunger Games, where the landscape is nothing like what audiences experience in their everyday lives.

“The reason I want to make film is that I believe that what it says is important, but instead of just commenting on the now we make this whole world,” Riley explains. “It’s so obscure and [people] don’t digest it.”

The director likes to make statements whether it is through his art or his criticism of other’s work. Earlier this year he offered a detailed examination of Spike Lee’s BlackKklansman which some saw as an unnecessary calling out of the veteran filmmaker.

“I don’t see it as calling out,” Riley explains, “I think art is a statement. My art in itself is a critique so it’s fair to critique that. Everyone’s art is some sort of statement or idea that they’re putting out. It’s an intellectual work but I think certain industries are not set up for people to look at these works as political statements.

“It’s different with BlackKklansman because obviously, [Lee is] saying this is a political statement and my question was what was the political statement?”

There is no question that Riley is an outspoken individual but in an industry as fickle as Hollywood sometimes that public candidness is not welcomed. That isn’t going to stop him from speaking his truth though.

“I’ve put myself in a position where people who want to work with me want to work with me and they know who I am and what’s up,” he says. “It’s like Spike critiquing Tyler Perry stuff in the past; I’m sure the company that puts his movies out were like ‘don’t say that we’re trying to sell this stuff’ but they would still be down to work with him after that.

“I try to not operate from fear as much as possible.”

Riley’s forthright attitude certainly hasn’t put some seriously influential figures off from working with him as he has some major projects in the pipeline.

“I am writing and directing and an episode of Guillermo del Toro’s Horror anthology show called 10 After Midnight,” the director reveals, “and I have a deal with Michael Ellenberg, he’s the guy who brought Game of Thrones to HBO, I’m doing a TV show and then I’m writing two films.”

Looks like we can expect a lot more statements to come from Boots Riley and I, for one, can’t wait to see them.

Sorry to Bother You is in cinemas this Friday

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