Boots Riley: ‘People should democratically control the wealth we create with labor’

Sorry to Bother You is one of the best films I’ve ever seen. It’s hard to describe except that it works on so many different levels. It’s ridiculous, it’s funny, it’s a deep commentary on society, capitalism, activism and race. There are moments of dialogue that are incredibly meaningful without being heavy-handed at all. You could describe it as Get Out meets Idiocracy but it’s so much more than that. Just watch it. It mixes several genres, there are scifi elements and you might be incredulous at the end, but you will be entertained. I got it on Redbox and it’s streaming on Hulu now. Watch the trailer if you’re interested and if you hate it please @me and I will argue with you about it. It stars Lakeith Stanfield and Tessa Thompson. Steven Yeun, Armie Hammer and Terry Crews are in it too.

This is film composer and musician Boots Riley’s first screenplay and directorial effort, and due to his background the score is great too. Riley has a new interview with The Guardian in which he describes his political stance, how he got Sorry to Bother You made and his next project, most likely for HBO, which I’ll be watching closely.

When it came to funding the movie, was your background – as a musician, as a person of colour – a disadvantage?
Definitely being a musician made people not necessarily want to read the script. They thought: ‘Oh, this is just a side project, maybe you have a clothing line too?’ Once I got David Cross and Patton Oswalt on board [they provide the “white voices” for Green and his black supervisor], a few people were like: “I guess maybe it’s funny or something.” And when Dave Eggers started going around saying: “This is one of the best unproduced screenplays,” then it made people be like: “Maybe I’ll click on the PDF.”

You identify as a communist. What do you mean when you say you’re a communist?
I think that the people should democratically control the wealth that we create with our labour. Whereas at this point, most of the value we produce is being hoarded and used as power over us. Most people will agree that we should democratically control the wealth that we create with our labour. The question is, how do we get there? How is that organised? I don’t claim to have the answers. A lot of people, especially on the left, will sit around arguing about what colour the buses should be when we have a world like that, but the real point is, that’s the world we need to be working towards. There are people who have said that they were working for that world, and some were being disingenuous, some were being sincere. All have made mistakes. Why? Because that’s what you do in life, is make mistakes. But that’s the world that we should be working for. We’re not going to get there without a struggle. It’s not going to get voted in.

As corporations get ever more powerful and inequality rises, is it hard to remain optimistic?
My optimism doesn’t have to do with the scoreboard, it has to do with who’s up to bat.

Will you make more films?
I have a deal with Michael Ellenberg, who brought Game of Thrones to HBO, and I’m doing my own TV series with him. I’m writing and directing an episode for Guillermo del Toro’s horror anthology series 10 After Midnight. And then I’m writing a couple of films. I’ve waited a long time, I’m 47, so I’ve got to get a lot of stuff done.

[From The Guardian]

Sorry to Bother You probably won’t be remembered come Oscars time. It’s a subversive movie and will likely be passed over because it’s hard to define and has leads who are people of color, but it’s true genius. I’m not surprised to hear that Riley identifies as Communist and he explained that well. I have questions about some of the plotlines, I like that they didn’t wrap everything up in a bow and that Riley left some things unanswered. It’s a thinking person’s film without being so clever it’s frustrating. (It’s not like a Christopher Nolan movie in that I didn’t feel like I missed anything.) I don’t necessarily want a sequel but I’d like Riley to make so many more films. He can write, he can direct and he knows music too. He has that potential deal with HBO coming up so hopefully we’ll get more content from him soon. Also 47 is not too old at all. He has plenty of time left to entertain us. (Plus I’m around that age. My God I’m not old!)




Photos credit: WENN

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.

52 Responses to “Boots Riley: ‘People should democratically control the wealth we create with labor’”

Comments are Closed

We close comments on older posts to fight comment spam.

  1. Jensies says:

    Ahhhh thank you for plugging this film! I literally jumped up and down with glee when I saw it was on Hulu and being plugged in a big way, it deserves way more people to see it.

    I remember walking away from this kind of in shock, feeling like I needed to see it ten more times to catch everything. It’s definiteky one of the best and most innovative films I’ve ever seen, and says so much about race relations in this country in a dry, funny, subversive way. Every performance is perfect. Totally recommend.

    • Celebitchy says:

      I didn’t mean to say like I caught everything (not that you said I said that ha!) but that I didn’t NEED to catch everything to get a lot out of it or understand the main plot points. That’s what frustrates me about Nolan’s films, that you feel like you don’t get it. I will definitely watch it again too. Thanks!!

  2. Lilly says:

    I’m sorry to say I hadn’t heard of this movie or Boots, but everything he said is right on. Especially about optimism – I’m continually striving to be on the optimistic side, otherwise I think you get stuck believing you can’t make a difference. Thanks so much Celebitchy for introducing him, and the film, to me. Also, you’re right, that’s not old.

  3. Jay says:

    Communism is a silly dream that encourages low productivity of items nobody wants also kills innovation. Why look for a better way when you won’t reap a financial reward for it?

    • Patty says:

      Tell that to China. Or better yet look at Facebook. A company that produces nothing of real value and valued at tens of billions of dollars. Just because one points out that there a flaws in the current system doesn’t mean their ready to line up to replace Stalin.

      • Jay says:

        Dear lord, do you think china is communist? They have a STOCK MARKET. The ultimate expression of capitalism.

      • Jay says:

        What’s wrong with facebook? It adds thousands of jobs to a high paying sector, mostly for Americans. It obviously fulfills a psychological need of people or it wouldnt be so prevalent.

    • Capt Mo says:

      @Jay, capitalism creates an abundace of shit we don’t need…widgets, wasted produce, luxury brand sweaters that cost x1000 that what took to produce it. “Why look for a better way when you won’t reap a financial reward for it?” Because some people didn’t grow up to be greedy and do good things for the simple sake of doing good.

      • Jay says:

        So you are going to rely on some people’s better nature as the basis for your whole economic plan? Good luck. Your right, some people are truly self sacrificing, but most are not.

      • Jay says:

        Those wasted luxury goods you refer to. Either a) nobody buys it and the maker goes out of business or b) people buy it, and it should be produced for that very reason. It has a market. And that market helps create jobs.
        That’s the beauty of the free market. It self corrects to supply what people demand.

    • Harryg says:

      A lot of people pick their profession based on what they are interested in, or talented at, not because it pays enormously well. People who built the first rockets didn’t do it because it might make them a gazillionaire.
      Everyone needs money tor survive, sure. I support universal basic income. There’s enough money for this in the world.
      At the moment it’s outrageously unfair how some companies just strangle their workers.

      • Jay says:

        A)companies don’t owe workers a living. B) the standard of living has been significantly lower for communist countries.
        C) nobody does what they do for a living soley because of money. What determines it is interest, abilities, and self interest. The reason there 8s enough money for universal basic income is because some people are outrageously successful and rich. You seem to plan to take from the rich to fund this scheme. What happens next year, when there are no more rich? Because if becoming rich just means you will have your money redistributed, then nobody will make the effort to make very much money.

      • Scotchy says:

        That is an excellent idea!!!

        I wish greed wasn’t such a pervasive and aggressive disease because if it wasn’t something like this would be possible!!

      • eto says:

        Sorry @ Jay, I’m all for eating the rich.

      • Arpeggi says:

        I support basic income and quite honestly, I’d be ok with a maximum cap too. No one’s work is great enough to deserve millions a year. No one needs to be a billionaire, it’s silly to have more money than what you’ll ever spend in a lifetime, especially when others are starving (even more so when your employees have to rely on food stamps to make ends meet). And it could be applied worldwide too, money should be redistributed

      • Are you for real says:

        Universal basic income should be outlawed. It only encourages people to hold out their hands while sitting on their lazy rear ends. Canada attempted this but stopped after a year because it just didn’t work. Go figure.

      • Arpeggi says:

        Canada didn’t attempt it, Ontario did. And it wasn’t really universal, it was a mix between that and welfare which made it super complicated to manage and costly. The whole “but ppl won’t want to work” thing is BS, the same thing is said about welfare and it’s been debunked times and times again. It’s a basic income, most don’t want to live with $18K/yr, it should also be associated with an end to individual tax credits, which is how it could be funded and would make filling taxes so much easier. Some ppl might decide not to work and be happy with that, others might decide to work for something that pays little but that they always wanted to do. It’s ok. I’d continue doing what I do because I love it and so would many.

  4. Juls says:

    Any economic system will feasibly work, in theory. On paper. Communism, socialism, capitalism. The theories are great. ON PAPER. But there is one human element that cannot be factored into any equation, and that is GREED. Greed cannot be quantified in any economic equation. Trickle-down-economics doesn’t work because those at the top hoard wealth. Greed. Remember, the Bolsheviks seized power with communist idealism. They were the party of the working -class. But SOMEBODY has to lead, and eventually those at the top get drunk with power and money. And they hoard the money and suppress everyone else. It happens every time, as history has shown us. What is the answer? I honestly don’t know. For starters, take money out of politics. Take corporate influence out of politics. Even the most ideal politicians, with the best of intentions, can become corrupt. Maybe only monks should be given power, I don’t know. Trump supporters love that he is “self-made” billionaire *snort* but that only pushes the idea that only wealthy people should be able to hold office. Hell, even in local elections you have to be able to put up a minimum of $10K to even run in some cases. Maybe we should just stage a French Revolution and start over.

    • Jay says:

      The excesses of the french revolution eventually appalled even the french.

    • Harryg says:

      I think it’s a very good idea is that the top bosses could only make ten times what the lowest paid worker. Every worker builds a company. And in my opinion a good cleaner is more valuable to society than a Wolf on Wall Street-guy.
      And why do the jobs most important to society nearly always get paid the least? Like teachers and nurses. And jobs that could disappear and nobody would notice pay the most.
      (There’s a great book, “Bullshit Jobs” David Graeber.)

      • Jay says:

        The problem with that is that a janitor is not adding as much value to a company as a great manager. If the great manager increases productivity and profits by 200 percent, that adds real value to the company. If the janitor empties 200 percent more garbage, that doesnt add one cent in profit to the company. So one is worth a great deal more than the other.

      • Arpeggi says:

        @Jay, if the janitor doesn’t do its job well, the great manager and dozens of others might have to call sick because they all caught the same stomach flu which can also cost millions to the company…

      • Jay says:

        @Arpeggi- if the janitor doesn’t empty the trash, he would be fired and replaced the next day. Because literally anyone who is able bodied can empty trash. Not everyone can run a multi billion dollar company. Yet the principle still applies. The manager doesnt get it done he will be on the unemployment line with the bad janitor. The buisness won’t tolerate continuing fixable problems. So that is a rather unrealistic situation you have proposed.

    • Lydia says:

      Monks having any kind of power wasn’t exactly beneficial to the many (especially to women), but you make a lot of sense with everything else.

      Checks and balances are most important. So, a democracy with capitalism, but also checks on what companies are allowed to do in politics and protection/education for those who need it.

      • Jay says:

        A very sensible comment.

      • Juls says:

        Thanks. I was just spit balling. Checks and balances=regulations. Which we desperately needed after the 08-09 financial crisis. Which the Obama administration put into place. Which were very successful. Regulations that the Trump administration is now dismantling and the morons of his base cheer him on. Get ready for another implosion, because it’s coming.

  5. Patty says:

    I think it’s time for a new market system. The free market will always produce losers and those losers are usually people; GM announces layoffs of 15,000 and their stock goes up. People who have a lot of GM stock are literally profiting off 15,000 people losing their jobs. A system like that is not really sustainable.

    • Jay says:

      The difference is your own ability helps decide if you are a winner or loser in capitalism. Communism decides winners and losers based on party loyalty.

      • Rulla says:

        Your own ability is only a small part of what determines whether you end up a “winner” or “loser”. I don’t get why people still believe this nonsense. It’s been debunked many many times.

      • Patty says:

        I said nothing about communism. I’m talking strictly about a true free market economy; which truth be told doesn’t really exist anywhere just as true communism doesn’t really exist anywhere. As someone mentioned earlier all these theories look better on paper then in real life. Also ability doesn’t necessarily decide who wins and who loses, in an idea world maybe. But we live in the real world.

      • Jay says:

        Your right, capitalism isn’t perfect. But it’s the system where your abilities makes the most difference in how you end up. Sure people start at different levels and so end at different levels. But you can take all the worlds money and distribute it evenly and in 3 years some will be broke and some will be on their way to rich. You can only try to ensure equal opportunities, not outcomes.

      • Arpeggi says:

        You abilities don’t help you “win” as much as how much money, connections and influence your family has. Exhibit A currently watches Fox News in the Oval office. The self-made man story is a myth.

      • Jay says:

        @arpeggi, yes connections help. Yes familial wealth helps. And I am not saying everyone gets to the same level they deserve. And some go way past where they deserve(current president), and yes we will all start at different levels. But the only way to fix that is to give everyone exactly the same amount of money. But the problem is, in 3 years a large portion will be broke, and a small portion will have all the money. Because some people are better with money, and some(most) are terrible with money. Then what do you do? Redistribute all the wealth again? At that point where does the wealth come from? You keep taking people’s money to an excessive level, they will stop earning very much(lower production, essentially). At that point, there are no more rich to take from to give to the poor. Now what?

  6. anon says:

    Saw it a few days ago. It was awesome, so original, refreshing, and funny.

  7. ValiantlyVarnished says:

    We watched this on Thanksgiving after renting it from Red Box! It was a trippy film but really smart. Especially the subversiveness of what happens with Lakeith’s character. I wont say anymore to avoid spoilers.

  8. Branvoyage says:

    I rented it and somewhat half watched it as much as my family would let me yesterday. My 5 year old came in the room during a part when a man/dinosaur/monster thing with a big dick fell out of a bathroom stall, so I had to turn it off but I see this article as a sign to try again.
    It is a super weird movie lol.

  9. Eleri Glass says:

    Boots for president!

  10. FF says:

    Nah, I think it will at the very least get a best screenplay nod. I think the Academy will recognize it.

  11. Salvm5 says:

    Love this film & disc of economics/politics here..quick thought pre mtg-sorry for typos…US has ALWAYS been socialist mixed with capitalism…just right now, it’s corporations that get the most benefits fr socialism- e.g., we let Walmart get huge tax breaks so they can pay there workers so little that tax payers have to subsidize there workforce with food stamps, medicaid/visits to ER- its APPALLING. Recall that last GOPer to have balanced budget was Ike- tax rate for wealthiest was 90%..& .they were still able to eventually buy enough politicians to eventually get Citizens United, Voting Act gutting, tax scam, Fox propaganda spew to buy Betsey D 10 yachts….get $ out of politics & progressive taxes, healthcare for all & you’ll still have PLENTY of innovation

  12. Mash says:


    i was like oooo its from a black masculine thought provoking director writer that doesnt fit the narrative and THUS it will be overlooked…

    not gonna lie the horse section had me in tears like just sad that that could ever even in symbolism happen if white patriarchy toxic masculinity and corporate greed gets its way…also i had 4 glasses of rose while watching it too LOL

  13. Janet says:

    Perhaps this man should immigrate to Cuba. That is a perfect example of what he is looking for. I really dislike wealthy entitled individuals telling us how well communism works. Just for the record if you believe in communism sell your property and give it to the government. Because that is what you will be doing in the future. Oh wait no you don’t sell it they take it. Study up abit before talking for goodness sakes.

    • eto says:

      What makes you think he’s wealthy and entitled? Plenty of lower income folks support communism, maybe you should study up a bit before talking.

    • Arpeggi says:

      Yeah because Cuba was so great for most Cubans under Batista… Cuba is far from great; free speech is an issue, homosexuality is still criminalized, forced prostitution is rampant and so on. But a lot of the problems and a lot of the radicalization that happened under Castro was also caused by how the US reacted to the coup.

      • Jay says:

        No it wasnt great, neither was it free market capitalism. That was a dictatorship with an oligarchy running it for profit that’s not capitalism, that’s gangsterism, with 0 political ideology involved. The whole communist capitalist fight was a way for Batista to line his pockets and stay in power. He didn’t care beyond that. You’re right, strong man rule is no better than communism and are often the same thing. But it doesn’t have to be either/or. It could be a democracy based on capitalism with socialistic tinges. Like our system. And most of Europe follows a more or less similar model.

  14. Annabel says:

    Jesus. These are the moments when it’s important to separate the art from the creator. I’ve heard that movie’s amazing, but a guy calling himself a communist either has a willful ignorance of what life in communist countries actually looks like—how many people died trying to get out of East Germany and the USSR? How many died of famine in North Korea in the ’90s?—or has undertaken some pretty insane intellectual contortions to convince himself that life in communist countries isn’t/wasn’t really all that bad. To paraphrase Winston Churchill, capitalism is the worst economic system, except for all the other economic systems that have been tried.

  15. DesertReal says:

    My husband and I just added this flick to our Stuff and have been waiting until all our relatives GTFO of our house so we can eat some edibles and watch it.

    I can’t wait.