Sorry To Bother You And Other Black Animal Analogies

first_imgStay on target Sorry to Bother You is such a cool movie. MovieBob already told you that, I’m telling you that, and as more and more people discover this cult classic in the making all of your cool film friends will want to tell you that. And it’s cool for a lot of reasons, from its Oakland music video energy from musician-turned-director Boots Riley, to its willingness to tackle contemporary progressive issues ranging from racial code-switching to labor organization, to its Afro Samurai reference with Lakeith Stanfield’s bloodied bandana.When you spend years making a sincere sci-fi satire that’s “Black Cheech and Chong advocate for communism” you’re going to be left with a bit of a mess but a brilliant and beautifully bizarre, prescient mess chocked full of thought-provoking stuff engaged audiences will be eager to talk about for years after watching. However, one aspect of Sorry To Bother You we’re most excited to talk about right now is also the closest thing the movie has to a major spoiler and plot twist. So first, GO SEE SORRY TO BOTHER YOU! Then come back here and keep reading. Watch These Movies Before ‘Don’t Let Go’‘Cannon Busters’ Is The Black Anime We’ve Been Waiting… center_img Okay so as you now know arguably the biggest idea in Sorry to Bother You, a movie filled to the brim with big ideas, is that Armie Hammer’s labor start-up/rebranded slavery company WorryFree is plotting to turn its lifelong workers into “Equisapiens” or human-horse hybrids. We learn this after hero(?) Cassius Green accidentally stumbles across a nude, coked-out, well-hung man-horse (played by Forest Whitaker) writhing in horrifying pain inside a bathroom stall. Yes, the movie introduces this concept and then keeps going. You have to roll with the fact that this movie has horse people in it. It’s awesome, but what does it mean?To me the horse people are the bluntest metaphor of the labor themes Sorry To Bother You primarily revolves around. WorryFree’s CEO Steve Lift says he’s about helping everyday people rise above their needs for dependency in an unstable capitalist marketplace, but really he’s about crushing them even more by trapping them for life in exploitative work they contractually can’t escape from, work that power caller telemarketers like white-voiced Cassius then sell to the highest bidder. Turning workers into horse people, creatures that are only valuable because of the extra labor they can produce, is literal dehumanization. You figure WorryFree is only doing this because robots aren’t as efficient.And it’s not even like Sorry To Bother You invented this horse=labor analogy. Think of all the work horses do on farms or messing up traffic on New York streets. Think about how casually you use the term “workhorse” to describe someone who puts in a lot of raw effort on something. The most tragic character in George Orwell’s classic political parable Animal Farm is Boxer, a humble horse who tirelessly and dutifully works so hard for the revolution until he is physically unable to. The corrupt pigs sell him for whiskey. Orwell was drawing a direct connection between horses and the common exploited working class of early corrupt Soviet Russia, and Sorry To Bother You is in that same leftist tradition.I also think it’s interesting how the movie’s end gag has Cassius unexpectedly turning into a horse-man and leading an assault on Steve Lift, after the reveal of the Equisapien science actually caused WorryFree’s stock to rise. Steve’s original $100 million offer to Cassius was to turn him into a temporary horse-man equivalent to Martin Luther King, Jr. in order to control their culture and stifle revolutions. So is Cassius just unwittingly feeding into that plan like Neo in The Matrix sequels? It feels like paranoia, but Cassius himself was paranoid he’d transform after snorting from Lift’s gene powder horse plate, and that paranoid was ultimately validated.Like Sorry To Bother You itself, I didn’t go into this essay with too tight of a structure in mind. But thinking about the way the film uses animal analogies also got me looking back on the ways animal analogies are used in other socially conscious movies, particularly ones with Black people.Unfortunately, and obviously, the history of equating Black people and animals in fiction is going to end up pretty racist a lot of the time. Shudder as you think about those crows from Dumbo or why it was so tone-deaf to frame LeBron James like King Kong on that magazine cover. Look at all the work that had to be done in Black Panther rehabilitating “Man-Ape” into M’Baku. God. Let’s not even get into all the stuff with Black guys and bulls in famous cucking Nickelodeon sitcom Bella and the Bulldogs. Even the “magical negro” trope and its association with voodoo magic or whatever plays on this idea that Black people are closer aligned to some primitive animal nature of the earth as compared to “evolved” white human beings.Then you get into more nebulous animal race analogy territory like orcs in Warcraft and predators in Zootopia. Both try to be progressive by painting the minority race as intelligent and worthy of sympathy and dignity in a world that hates and discriminates against them. But in both cases the metaphor breaks down because orcs for the most part really are this bestial villainous race driven by dark magic and predators in nature really do slaughter and eat prey to survive. X-Men has a similar issue in that it totally makes logical sense to fear people who shoot uncontrollable eye lasers. Actual People of Color don’t have these inherently negative/dangerous traits, which is what makes prejudice and racism and white supremacy ultimately so nonsensical, in addition to shameful and violent.That’s why the best recent Black animal analogy prior to Sorry To Bother You (which doesn’t limit its labor observations to race but understands how American capitalism was by stolen Black slave labor specifically) also comes from a brilliant Black filmmaker: Jordan Peele with Get Out. Think of the ways animals are used in that movie to accentuate its Black horror. “Run, Rabbit, Run” plays when Lakeith Stanfield (heh) is first abducted. Chris sees a dead deer on the road and thinks of his dead mother. The Armitages see deer as vermin that need to be exterminated and keep a hunted stag’s head mounted on the wall.The typical analogy of Black people as dangerous predator animals is subverted with this more accurate analogy of Black people are vulnerable oppressed prey for sneaky white predators. It’s that much more powerful then when Chris reclaims the stag horns to symbolically (and literally) kill the white patriarch because you’re rooting for the underdog, or under-deer as it were. Plus the term “buck” can apply to a male deer or strapping male slave. And as a bonus Rose’s villainous final outfit is a horse-riding outfit, signifying her wealthy mastery over horses performing labor for her.But honestly this horseplay is just some of my immediate, surface-level observations after seeing Sorry To Bother You. Expect the discussion surrounding this film to get even deeper and crazier as we have more time to really think about, soak in all it has to say. I could’ve written a whole other essay on Cassius’s and Mr. Blank’s stylish external wounds signifying their inner soul suicide, or how David Cross as a Black man’s white voice is a hilarious meta joke given Tobias Onyango Fünke’s racial ambiguity on Arrested Development. But in the meantime, if you haven’t seen Sorry To Bother You (but you still read this?) GO SEE SORRY TO BOTHER YOU! And if you have seen Sorry To Bother You, GO SEE SORRY TO BOTHER YOU AGAIN!Let us know what you like about Geek by taking our survey.last_img

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