Sorry to Bother You (film)

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Sorry to Bother You
Sorry to Bother You.png
Theatrical release poster
Directed byBoots Riley
Produced by
Written byBoots Riley
Music by
CinematographyDoug Emmett
Edited byTerel Gibson
  • Significant Productions
  • MNM Creative
  • Cinereach
  • The Space Program
Distributed by
Release date
  • January 20, 2018 (2018-01-20) (Sundance)
  • July 6, 2018 (2018-07-06) (United States)
Running time
111 minutes[2]
CountryUnited States
Budget$3.2 million[3]
Box office$17.5 million[4]

Sorry to Bother You is a 2018 American absurdist dark comedy film written and directed by Boots Riley, in his directorial debut. It stars Lakeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson, Jermaine Fowler, Omari Hardwick, Terry Crews, Patton Oswalt, David Cross, Danny Glover, Steven Yeun, and Armie Hammer. Set in Oakland, California, the film follows a young African-American telemarketer who adopts a white accent in order to thrive at his job. Once he does, he rapidly gets swept up into a conspiracy, and must choose between making money at the expense of humanity and joining with his activist friends to organize labor.

Principal photography began in June 2017 in Oakland. Sorry to Bother You premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on January 20, 2018, and was theatrically released in the United States on July 6, 2018, by Annapurna Pictures. The film received acclaim from critics, who praised the cast and concept, as well as Riley's script and direction.


In an alternative present-day version of Oakland, ads for a company called WorryFree offer a life free from paying bills and with free food and lodging, but at the cost of a lifetime work contract, a practice deemed legal and not equivalent to slavery. A radical group called "The Left Eye" opposes WorryFree by holding protests and vandalizing their advertisements.

Cassius "Cash" Green lives in his uncle Sergio's garage with his girlfriend, Detroit, and the only job he can find is working as a telemarketer on the lower levels of the RegalView company. Cash has trouble selling to customers until an older coworker, Langston, teaches him to use his "white voice" — one that conveys a tone of confident, carefree affluence — to sell. Cash discovers he has a special talent for selling with his white voice, and his manager suggests Cash will soon be promoted to the elusive and mysterious position of "Power Caller." Although little is known about their work, Langston tells Cash that Power Callers sell different products than entry-level workers like himself, Detroit, and their friend Sal.

Cash's co-worker Squeeze organizes a union to lobby for raises among the telemarketing staff. However, despite disrupting work as part of the union, Cash is still promoted to Power Caller. In the luxurious Power Caller suite, where Cash is instructed to only use his white voice, he learns that RegalView sells weaponry and human labor from WorryFree to other companies and governments.

Although Cash is initially uncomfortable with the work, he quickly overcomes his uncertainty when he learns what he will be paid. He is able to afford a new car and apartment, and to pay off Sergio's house. He also stops participating in the union, claiming he still supports them from the sidelines, and his relationship with Detroit starts to deteriorate as a result. He continues to work while his friends picket RegalView outside.

After more sales, Cash is invited to a party with Steve Lift, the CEO of WorryFree. After the party, Lift has a one-on-one meeting with Cash and offers him a powdered substance to snort, which he does.

Looking for the bathroom, Cash goes into the wrong door and finds a half-horse, half-human hybrid begging for help. He drops his phone and runs into Lift, who tries to calm him down by explaining how WorryFree are planning to make their workers stronger and more obedient by transforming them into half-horse, half-human hybrids, referred to as "equisapiens." The transformation takes place when a human snorts a gene-modifying powder similar to cocaine.

Lift explains he wants Cash to become an equisapien and act as a false revolutionary figure among them to keep them in line with WorryFree's goals, offering Cash $100 million for five years. When the five years are up, Lift says Cash will be able to take a "defusing powder" and return to his normal self.

After leaving in a panic, Cash becomes worried he was tricked into snorting the gene powder and visits Detroit, who tells him she received a video message from his missing phone, which turns out to be a cry for help from the equisapiens and Lift threatening to turn them into glue. To make the video viral, Cash goes on a reality show called "I Got the S#*@ Kicked Out of Me!", enduring a variety of physical punishments in order to get the video played at the end.

The plan backfires; Lift's plot is hailed as a ground-breaking scientific advancement, and WorryFree's stock reaches an all-time high. Cash apologizes to Squeeze, Sal, and Detroit. The union decides to make one last stand in the picket line, now joined once again by Cash.

The next day, Cash copies the code he saw in the equisapiens video to break into Lift's home before heading to the picket line where the callers and police get into a riot. He is knocked out by an officer just after he blows a whistle into a phone. Later that night, he wakes up in a police wagon and witnesses the equisapiens that he called with the whistle fighting back against the police, who they easily overpower with their superior strength. They then free him, Squeeze, Sal, and Detroit, and run off to keep fighting.

With everything seemingly returning back to normal, Cash suddenly grows massive nostrils on his face signaling his transformation into an Equisapien. Later a fully transformed Cash leads a mob of Equisapiens to Lift's house. Cash calls over the intercom and remarks "sorry to bother you," before leading the mob to break down the door and attack Lift.



Riley speaks at a Martin Luther King Jr. Day rally in Emeryville, California, January 2016.

Boots Riley describes the film as "an absurdist dark comedy with aspects of magical realism and science fiction inspired by the world of telemarketing". The screenplay for Sorry to Bother You was inspired by his own time working as a telemarketer and telefundraiser in California, and his need to put on a different voice to find success.[5] Riley finished the screenplay in 2012, and with no means to produce it, recorded an album of the same title with his band The Coup, inspired by the story. The screenplay was originally published in full as part of McSweeney's issue 48 in 2014.[6]

In June 2017, it was announced that production would go forward on Sorry to Bother You, directed by Riley, and that Lakeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson and Steven Yeun had been cast in the film. Nina Yang Bongiovi, Forest Whitaker, Jonathan Duffy, Kelly Williams, Charles D. King and George Rush served as producers on the film, under their Significant Productions, MACRO, and Cinereach banners, respectively.[7] The same month, Armie Hammer, Jermaine Fowler, Omari Hardwick and Terry Crews also joined the cast.[8][9][10] In July 2017, Danny Glover, David Cross and Patton Oswalt joined the cast of the film,[11] with Kate Berlant, Robert Longstreet and Michael Sommers being added later the same month.[12]


Principal photography began on June 22, 2017, in Oakland, California[12] and concluded on July 30, 2017.[13]

While it has been rumored that Danny Glover's "white voice" was performed by Steve Buscemi, Riley reported that it was actually done by the film's sound engineer.[4] Following its premiere at Sundance, producer Megan Ellison gave Riley $200,000 for reshoots and an additional scene.[2]


The film score was composed and performed by Tune-Yards. Riley and The Coup recorded an original soundtrack for the film as well, slated to be released later in 2018. The first single, "OYAHYTT", featuring Lakeith Stanfield, was released July 13, 2018.



Boots Riley has maintained that the film offers a radical class analysis of capitalism,[13] rather than a specific analysis of America under President Trump, clarifying that he wrote the initial screenplay during the Obama administration,[14][15] and that the target was never any specific elected official or movement, but rather a broader look at "the puppetmasters behind the puppets."[16][17] While the majority of the final script remained the same, minimal changes were made prior to shooting in order to avoid the film appearing to be a critique of Trump specifically, including removing a line where a character says "Worry Free is making America great again,"[18] written before Trump would use the line in his 2016 presidential campaign.

False consciousness[edit]

The title of the film has a double meaning, referencing both the phrase's use by telemarketers and its general usage when telling a person something you know they might not like to hear, such as the Communist themes present in the film. According to Boots, "...the other side of it is, is that often when you’re telling someone something that is different from how they view things, different from how they view the world, it feels like an annoyance or a bother. And that’s where that comes from."[19] The theme of the strike was used to reflect the need to "organize people in the workplace" and for workers to recognize their power.[20]

When asked on his choice to cast Armie Hammer as Steve Lift, Boots stated that Armie was a "lovable dude," whose casting reflects the current state of "new capitalism," where the realities of working conditions are hidden, referencing lines such as "I'm not your boss, I'm your friend."[21]


The film had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on January 20, 2018.[22][23] Shortly after, Annapurna Pictures acquired distribution rights.[24] It also screened at South by Southwest on March 12, 2018.[25] The film was initially scheduled to be released on June 29, 2018,[26] but was pushed back a week to July 6, 2018, where it began with a limited release before expanding wider on July 13.[27] Universal Pictures and Focus Features have picked up international distribution rights for the film, premiering at the 2018 London Film Festival, followed by a UK release date for December 7th. [28]

Sorry to Bother You was released on digital copy on October 9, 2018 and on Blu-ray and DVD on October 23, 2018. However, the physical releases are currently made available only in the United States.[29]


Box office[edit]

Sorry to Bother You grossed $727,266 from 16 theaters in its limited opening weekend, for an average of $45,452, the fourth-best average of 2018. It finished 16th at the weekend box office.[30] It had its wide release, in 805 theaters, on July 13, alongside the openings of Skyscraper and Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation, and was forecast to gross around $3.5 million over the weekend.[31] The film made more on its first day of wide release ($1.5 million) than it had in its full week of limited ($1.1 million). It went on to gross $4.3 million over the weekend, an increase of 485%, finishing 7th at the box office.[32] The film was added to another 245 theaters in its third week of release and made $2.8 million, finishing 10th.[33]

Critical response[edit]

On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 93% based on 213 reviews, with a weighted average of 7.8/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Fearlessly ambitious, scathingly funny, and thoroughly original, Sorry to Bother You loudly heralds the arrival of a fresh filmmaking talent in writer-director Boots Riley."[34] On Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating to reviews, the film has a weighted average score of 81 out of 100, based on 47 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".[35] Audiences polled by PostTrak gave the film an 84% overall positive score and a 72% "definite recommend".[30]

Some critics chided the film for not passing the Bechdel test (a metric determining whether a film features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man), and compared Thompson's character Detroit to a Manic Pixie Dream Girl.[36] Riley responded to the criticism by conceding that while the film did not pass the Bechdel test, Detroit had her own agency. "I will put Detroit up against most of the movies that do pass the Bechdel test and will confidently say that most of them will not have a character close to as radical or feminist as she is."[36]

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ "Sorry to Bother You". Sundance Film Festival. The Sundance Institute. Retrieved December 13, 2017.
  3. ^ Phillips, Michael (July 10, 2018). "Boots Riley goes from 'musician with a script' to potential hitmaker with 'Sorry to Bother You'". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved July 21, 2018.
  4. ^ "Sorry to Bother You (2018)". Box Office Mojo. IMDb. Retrieved October 2, 2018.
  5. ^ Gross, Terry (July 2, 2018). "Boots Riley Mines His Experiences as a Telemarketer in 'Sorry to Bother You'". Fresh Air. National Public Radio. Retrieved July 3, 2018.
  6. ^ Riley, Boots (2014). "Sorry to Bother You". McSweeney's Issue 48. McSweeney's Quarterly Concern. San Francisco: McSweeney's. ISBN 9781940450087.
  7. ^ Busch, Anita (June 15, 2017). "Tessa Thompson, Lakeith Stanfield, Steven Yeun To Star In 'Sorry To Bother You'". Deadline Hollywood. Penske Media Corporation. Retrieved June 27, 2017.
  8. ^ Busch, Anita (June 21, 2017). "Armie Hammer Joins Feature Drama 'Sorry To Bother You'". Deadline Hollywood. Penske Media Corporation. Retrieved June 27, 2017.
  9. ^ N'Duka, Amanda (June 22, 2017). "'Superior Donuts' Star Jermaine Fowler Cast In 'Sorry To Bother You'". Deadline Hollywood. Penske Media Corporation. Retrieved June 27, 2017.
  10. ^ Busch, Anita (June 27, 2017). "'Power' Star Omari Hardwick & Terry Crews Join Boots Riley's 'Sorry To Bother You'". Deadline Hollywood. Penske Media Corporation. Retrieved June 27, 2017.
  11. ^ Busch, Anita (July 26, 2017). "Danny Glover, David Cross And Patton Oswalt Join 'Sorry To Bother You'". Deadline Hollywood. Penske Media Corporation. Retrieved July 26, 2017.
  12. ^ Riley, Boots (July 26, 2017). "Boom All this amazing talent coming together to make Sorry To Bother You fly. You've never seen a movie like this. The cast is: Lakeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson, Armie Hammer, Steven Yeun, Omari Hardwick, Danny Glover, Patton Oswalt, David Cross, Jermaine Fowler, Terry Crews, Kate Berlant, Robert Longstreet, and Michael Sommers". Instagram. Retrieved July 26, 2017.
  13. ^ Democracy Now! (2018-07-17), Boots Riley on How His Hit Movie "Sorry to Bother You" Slams Capitalism & Offers Solutions, retrieved 2018-07-26
  14. ^ Democracy Now! (2018-07-17), Boots Riley on How His Hit Movie "Sorry to Bother You" Slams Capitalism & Offers Solutions, retrieved 2018-07-26
  15. ^ "Boots Riley on Twitter". Twitter. Retrieved 2018-07-26.
  16. ^ IMDb (2018-07-05), IMDb Show | Interview with 'Sorry to Bother You' Director Boots Riley and Star Lakeith Stanfield, retrieved 2018-07-26
  17. ^ Boots Riley On Why You HAVE To Watch 'Sorry To Bother You', & Using Your 'White Voice', retrieved 2018-07-26
  18. ^ Morrison, Patt. "Boots Riley on power, organizing and who really runs the country. (Hint: It's not Trump)". Retrieved 2018-07-26.
  19. ^ "Boots Riley on How His Hit Movie "Sorry to Bother You" Slams Capitalism & Offers Solutions". Democracy Now!. Retrieved 2018-07-26.
  20. ^ "Boots Riley of The Coup… on Communism, Corporatism, hip-hop, and the need to beat down scabs". Mark Maynard. Retrieved 2018-07-26.
  21. ^ Democracy Now! (2018-07-17), Boots Riley on How His Hit Movie "Sorry to Bother You" Slams Capitalism & Offers Solutions, retrieved 2018-07-26
  22. ^ "2018 Sundance Film Festival: Feature Films Announced". Sundance Film Festival. The Sundance Institute. November 29, 2017. Retrieved November 29, 2017.
  23. ^ "Sundance Program Schedule" (PDF). Sundance Film Festival. The Sundance Institute. Retrieved December 14, 2017.
  24. ^ Lang, Brent (January 25, 2018). "Sundance: Annapurna Buys 'Sorry to Bother You'". Variety. Penske Media Corporation. Retrieved January 25, 2018.
  25. ^ "Sorry to Bother You". SXSW Schedule. South by Southwest. Retrieved February 14, 2018.
  26. ^ D'Alessandro, Anthony (February 9, 2018). "Annapurna Dates Films By Adam McKay, Babak Anvari & Sundance Acquisition 'Sorry To Bother You'". Deadline Hollywood. Penske Media Corporation. Retrieved February 9, 2018.
  27. ^ Riley, Boots [@BootsRiley] (March 9, 2018). "New release dates for Sorry To Bother You are as follows: July 6th in select cities. July 27th in every damn city in the United States. Stay tuned for international release schedule" (Tweet). Retrieved March 9, 2018 – via Twitter.
  28. ^
  29. ^ Riley, Boots. "Ay!!! #SorryToBotherYou will be available for digital download (in the US only) on October 9th!!!! It will be available on DVD/Blu-Ray and VHS on October 23rd!!! Also US only!". Twitter.
  30. ^ a b D'Alessandro, Anthony (July 8, 2018). "'Ant-Man And The Wasp' Shrinks A Tick To $76M+ Opening, But Still 34% Bigger Than Original – Early Sunday Read". Deadline Hollywood. Penske Business Media. Retrieved July 8, 2018.
  31. ^ D'Alessandro, Anthony (July 11, 2018). "'Hotel Transylvania 3' & Dwayne Johnson's 'Skyscraper' Vie For Prime Box Office Real Estate". Deadline Hollywood. Penske Business Media. Retrieved July 11, 2018.
  32. ^ D'Alessandro, Anthony (July 15, 2018). "Why Dwayne Johnson Pic 'Skyscraper' Went Up In Flames At The B.O. With $25M+". Deadline Hollywood. Penske Business Media. Retrieved July 15, 2018.
  33. ^ D'Alessandro, Anthony (July 22, 2018). "Shocker: 'Mamma Mia 2' Meets B.O. Waterloo As 'Equalizer 2' Is The No. 1 Winner That Takes It All With $35M+". Deadline Hollywood. Penske Business Media. Retrieved July 22, 2018.
  34. ^ "Sorry to Bother You (2018)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved November 4, 2018.
  35. ^ "Sorry to Bother You Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved July 5, 2018.
  36. ^ a b "Boots Riley Defends Tessa Thompson's Sorry to Bother You Character: 'Detroit Is Not a Prize'". Vulture. 2018-08-09. Retrieved 2018-08-11.

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