Culture Feature

Boots Riley Drops Major Truth Bombs in Endorsement for Bernie Sanders

Boots Riley recognizes the need for radical direct action––Because without radical direct action, nobody will listen and nothing will change.

CREDIT: GRIFFIN LIPSON/BFA/REX/SHUTTERSTOCK

Boots Riley, the activist, rapper, writer, and director behind Sorry to Bother You–the most underrated movie of 2018 (although that's to be expected from majority white mainstream media when it comes to a biting satire about code switching and capitalist enslavement of black people)–has taken to Twitter with his endorsement of Bernie Sanders.

In a phenomenal thread spanning 33 tweets, Riley lays out his reasoning behind supporting Sanders, despite the fact that he has never previously voted for a presidential candidate. His words speak to the experiences of many Sanders' supporters (especially circa 2016) and reflect the ideological core that sets leftists apart from liberals.

Riley's thread outlines his belief that in order to have actual "democracy," we need to live in "a world in which the people democratically control the wealth that we create with our labor."

Riley recognizes the need for leftist activists, or "radicals," to push us in that direction through direct action––Because without direct action, nobody will listen. Riley traces movements that fall in this vein, from the Anti-Iraq War movement (whereby millions of people took to the streets but were ineffective in convincing anyone with the necessary power to stop the war) to the Occupy Movement (which brought discussions of capitalism and the 1% into the mainstream public conscience) to Black Lives Matter (which spoke out against cops disregarding the lives of black people and ultimately proved that even communal anger rarely results in any action from those in power).

"We must have movements with teeth," Riley says. "Ones that are able to force the hands of power."

To this end, Riley sees value in radical, militant labor movements wherein workers organize to strike in solidarity and in large enough numbers to shut down business. Riley points to Wayfair furniture workers' successful strike to stop the company from working with ICE and 20,000 Google workers rolling work stoppage walkouts to force management into addressing issues including workplace sexual harassment.

In a hyper-capitalist society, collective movements with the power to shut down industries by withholding labor might very well be the only way to ensure representation and effect change.

Ultimately, Riley clarifies that he doesn't necessarily agree with Bernie on every single thing but that Bernie is the only candidate propped up by a movement consisting of millions of actual working class people who are actively banding together to engage in necessary class struggle.

Funnily enough, another Twitter user presumably read through Riley's entire thread and still said, "I like what you're saying here. Will you show up to vote for any of the other candidates if Bernie doesn't win the nomination?"

To which Riley concisely responded, "Nope."

Many, many people, especially working class people who fall along various lines of intersectionality, do not feel represented in American politics. Donald Trump may be an especially rancid embodiment of the racism and corporate greed at America's political core, but we can't pretend that centrist Democrats have the best interest of working class people at heart either, even if their social policies are slightly better.

The truth is that most politicians on both sides of the aisle are bought out by corporate interests, lobbyists, and the uber-wealthy––or, alternatively, fall into the uber-wealthy class themselves, and they aim to use their vast wealth to buy their way into government positions. None of these politicians, with their corporate donors or billions of dollars, give two sh*ts about people who work full-time and can barely afford rent and food.

But that's the beauty of a grassroots movements like the one surrounding Bernie Sanders. His supporters aren't corporations and lobbyists. They're working class people who are sick and tired of not being represented in American government––not just by Trump, but by the entire two-party system. There's a reason that, despite Bernie Sanders leading all other democratic candidates in support from non-white voters (not to mention overall support), mainstream corporate media has continued to bash him at every turn while continually posting op-eds with headlines like, "It's time to give the elites a bigger say in choosing the president."

Don't get tricked into believing that having a common enemy in Trump automatically puts leftists and liberals on the same side. The liberals who support candidates like Biden, Buttigieg, and especially Bloomberg–insisting that everyone must be united to defeat Donald Trump in 2020 while parroting the racist, sexist Bernie Bro myth to erase the women and POC who support Sanders in massive numbers–are the same breed of "white moderate" that Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. warned about:

"First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to 'order' than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says 'I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can't agree with your methods of direct action'; who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a 'more convenient season.'"

Nobody is obligated to "hold their nose" and vote for a transphobic, racist, sexist like Mike Bloomberg, and doing so isn't such a far cry from all the Trump voters who claimed to dislike the things Trump says but voted for him anyways. Moreover, there's practically a zero percent chance that Bernie won't have a plurality of delegates going into the Democratic National Convention, especially considering his overwhelming support among individual voters. Nominating anyone other than Bernie in this case would prove that the DNC isn't aligned with the American people, so take heed. If the DNC wants to force a choice between oligarchs, they should prepare for a lot of people to abstain.

Warner Bros.

The Oscars are bullsh*t, and it's hard to understand why anybody watches them anymore.

I say this as someone who absolutely adores movies. Heck, I majored in film and I write about entertainment every single day. But for the life of me, I just don't get why anybody who isn't a Hollywood celebrity would care about such a masturbatory award show.

Theoretically, an Academy Award should be the highest honor in film––an award given to the year's absolute best movie, as chosen by the people who best understand the medium. In practice though, the Academy is overwhelmingly white (84%) and male (69%), chock full of racist opinions, and heavily influenced by whichever movie's marketing team runs the most expensive Oscar campaign.

Want to hear a Hollywood secret? A large chunk of voters don't even watch every movie, especially for less high-profile categories like "Best Short Film (Live Action)." The truth is that, like many other things in America, the Oscars boil down to who has the most money and the most power.

Green Book winning "Best Picture" last year––the same year that Boots Riley's incredible Sorry to Bother You wasn't even nominated––should have absolutely crushed whatever faith anyone still held in the Academy's taste. Then again, Sorry to Bother You was a confrontational fable about racism and classism written from a black POV, and Green Book was a white guy's reassurance to other white guys that "I have a black friend" is a valid defense. It's no wonder the Academy loved it.

Thankfully, in 2020, some media outlets have finally had enough.

Oscars Academy Awards

In a statement released by Bitch Media titled "#ByeOscars," the Bitch Media team explained why they are officially boycotting the Oscars. "Once again, the Academy Awards is white as ever, even as the ceremony is touted as the pinnacle of a production or an actor's success...Having a single year (or two) where the nomination pool is more diverse doesn't account for a long history of nominating white, straight people at the expense of people from oppressed communities, so why should we cover a ceremony that shuts out the communities we serve over and over again?"

The Mary Sue followed suit with a post titled "We're Joining Bitch Media in Boycotting the 2020 Oscars." Rallying behind #ByeOscars, The Mary Sue stated, "While we'll discuss any emerging issues surrounding the awards and are ardent in our support of Parasite and Jojo Rabbit, the Academy's failure to nominate more than one person of color (Cynthia Erivo for Harriet) in its sprawling acting categories, or any women for its top directing award, shows how out-of-touch the Oscars remain."

Plenty of other female media professionals agree.

Well, for what it's worth, this white male Internet writer agrees, too. To be clear, Parasite absolutely deserves "Best Picture" this year, by a longshot. I doubt that the Academy's voting body will allow an international film made by a non-white director to win the top award in their "Western Media Supremacy" circlej*rk, but I'd like to be wrong. Bong Joon-ho deserves all the accolades he can get. But even if I am wrong, even if Parasite really is the first ever international film to win "Best Picture," the larger point stands.

In many ways, boycotting the Oscars is an act of solidarity with underrepresented people who the Academy continues to ignore. By refusing to watch, acknowledge, or report on the winners, we can show the Academy that if they insist on upholding a majority-white hegemony, then they risk losing whatever influence we give them in the larger social sphere. Everything in Hollywood runs on money, and a large chunk of that money is based on perceived clout. If we take that clout away by refusing to engage, viewership numbers decrease, and profits do too.

The Academy Awards are no longer relevant, and despite the fact that movies are one of my biggest passions in life, I won't be tuning in.

#ByeOscars

Of all the movies to come out in 2018, from Alfonso Cuaron's poetic Roma to Yorgos Lanthimos's biting The Favourite, only two stood out as truly mind-blowing.

One was Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, a blend of extraordinary animation coupled with the best superhero script to-date. It was so good that even pervasive superhero movie fatigue couldn't hinder its buzz. Of course it got nominated for Best Animated Feature.

The other was Sorry to Bother You, the directorial debut of rapper Boots Riley. Watch the trailer below. Then we'll chat.

SORRY TO BOTHER YOU | Official Trailer www.youtube.com


The story takes place in an alternate version of Oakland and follows Cassius 'Cash' Green (Lakeith Stanfield), an African American telemarketer who discovers that using a "white person voice" makes him extra-successful with sales.

That's all you should know going in. Anything beyond that could ruin the surprise.

But trust that we're talking about the most original movie in years — one with a strong, angry, passionate political viewpoint that never speaks down to its viewers. It's a movie that puts you directly into the shoes of a young, poor black man struggling to make his way against the myriad disadvantages heaped on him by white society, all while maintaining an outrageous sense of humor and visual oomph. It's a movie that transcends category, at once comedy, drama, socio-political commentary, and horror, rife with magic realism.

Sorry to Bother You absolutely deserved a Best Picture nod. Lakeith Stanfield deserved a Best Actor in a Leading Role nod for his turn as Cash. But most of all, Boots Riley deserved nominations for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay.

Boots Riley has stated that he's not bothered by the Academy's decision not to nominate because he "didn't actually run a campaign." While that may be true, it's still bullshit.


The Academy Awards are meant to be a celebration of the best movies in a given year, not the ones that spent the most on their Oscar campaigns. A movie like Sorry to Bother You getting left off a "Best Feature" list that includes Bohemian Rhapsody calls the entire endeavor into question.

If one of the best original movies in years doesn't get nominated for any Oscar, why the hell should we care about the Oscars at all?


Dan Kahan is a writer & screenwriter from Brooklyn, usually rocking a man bun. Find more at dankahanwriter.com


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Annapurna Pictures 'Sorry to Bother You'

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the uncanny metaphor both films explore, that is, the way black and brown bodies are seen as disposable and, as Riley's ending scene shows, mutable.

Sorry to Bother You is probably the wildest movie you'll see all year. Boots Riley, the lead vocalist for The Coup and Street Sweeper Social Club, makes his directorial debut in what will probably be this year's cult sensation. The film is at once a social satire, whimsical romance, and Get Out hybrid up until it's outrageously unsettling finale. Riley has created the type of film that eschews all the pretentiousness and formalities of a summer release; this is, without a doubt, one of the most unique and energetic movies of 2018 about race/sociopolitical relations in the States.

Part of its charm is LaKeith Stanfield who nails the drowsy, defeated protagonist Cassius Green (as in "Cash is green"), a man with horrible posture who becomes a telemarketer to make ends meet. He is paid only commission and his lively artist girlfriend, Detroit, played by a stunning Tessa Thompson, isn't financially better off. They live in the garage of Cassius' uncle, Sergio (Terry Crews), whose home is facing foreclosure. You can probably sense the set up here: the fam needs money and Cassius just got a job that promises upward mobility…that is, as long as Cassius uses his white voice (voiced by David Cross).

There are plenty of stand-up bits about the infamous white voice and its variations as a cultural phenomenon, but Riley revitalizes the joke. As described to Cassius by an older telemarketer (Danny Glover), the white voice isn't so much a cultural dialect as it is a mentality: it's the carefree voice, the I-don't-have-anything-to-lose voice. It is, quite literally, a verbal performance of superiority and power and, when performed by Cassius, it's his golden ticket to becoming a power caller upstairs: think Wolf of Wall Street. Armie Hammer plays Steve, the cocaine-fueled CEO of the company who's a textbook megalomaniac, and nothing short of a white supremacist. There, Cassius learns what the company is actually selling—hint: slave labor—and is given an ultimatum by Detroit, who rightfully calls his work "morally emaciating."

In between Cassius' rise as a power caller, Sorry to Bother You becomes a satire on our current state of fake news and, more importantly, meme culture. There's a running bit about a meme where Cassius is hit in the head with a can of Coke, and even a satirical show where people get beat up on national TV. All of this sounds like it's added for shock value, and it is, but there are nuggets of social commentary that land. But there are also scenes that are absolutely cringeworthy for the sake of being provocative. A film like this naturally covers incendiary topics, but at times, Riley forgoes subtlety and completely lights the film on fire as a raging critique of global capitalism and outsourced labor. The finale—which has everyone frazzled, divided, and undeniably uncomfortable—feels like a deleted scene from Jordan Peele's Get Out. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the uncanny metaphor both films explore, that is, the way black and brown bodies are seen as disposable and, as Riley's ending scene shows, mutable.

The chaos of Sorry to Bother You feels warranted. This is a poetic, layered film that responds to bigotry by highlighting the absurdity of its very nature. It's enraged. It delivers punchlines at the speed of light and doesn't slow its momentum till the ending credits. It wants to bother you, disturb you, confuse you. It's about race and love, but at its core, Riley has made a film that depicts America's class divide. One of the most visually captivating films of the year, Sorry to Bother You marinates its allegories in lighter fluid and waits until the very end to spark the match.


Shaun Harris is a poet, freelance writer, and editor published in avant-garde, feminist journals. Lover of warm-toned makeup palettes, psych-rock, and Hilton Als. Her work has allowed her to copyedit and curate content for various poetry organizations in the NYC area.


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