Subversives: Sorry to Bother You

  • Tuesday, October 13, 2020 / 7:00 PM - 8:15 PM (PDT)
  • With Boots Riley (director/screenwriter/musician)
  • Starring: LaKeith Stanfield and Tessa Thompson

Set in an alternate-reality contemporary Oakland, Boots Riley’s 2018 film Sorry to Bother You blends absurdist satire and leftist labor politics to skewer white corporatism. Down-and-out telemarketer Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield) ascends the company ladder after finding a secret weapon to success, and befriends the maniacal CEO Steve Lift (Armie Hammer). His opulent lifestyle eventually clashes with the unionized labor struggle fought by Detroit (Tessa Thompson), Squeeze (Steven Yeun), and others, and a more sinister corporate conspiracy emerges. Much like the hip-hop music created by The Coup, rapper Boots Riley’s directorial debut represents a funky, surreal, and politically charged funhouse mirror to American capitalism.

Writer, director, and musician Boots Riley joined moderator Miguel Penabella (Film and Media Studies, UCSB) for a discussion of Sorry to Bother You and his musical career.

Sorry To Bother You can be streamed on Amazon Prime Video and Hulu.


Headshot of filmmaker Boots Riley

Boots Riley (director/screenwriter)

Boots Riley is a provocative and prolific poet, rapper, songwriter, producer, screenwriter, director, community organizer, and public speaker. Boots Riley wrote and directed Sorry to Bother You, a comedy fantasy sci-fi film, in his directorial debut. The film premiered at the 2018 Sundance Film Fest and opened to strong critical acclaim in theaters nationwide later in 2018. He is the lead vocalist of The Coup and Street Sweeper Social Club. Fervently dedicated to social change, Boots was deeply involved with the Occupy Oakland movement. He was one of the leaders of the activist group The Young Comrades. He is the author of the critically acclaimed Tell Homeland Security—We Are the Bomb.


Moderator Miguel Penabella (Film and Media Studies, UCSB)

Miguel Penabella is a PhD student in Film and Media Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. His research deploys the specter as a theoretical framework for examining historical revisionism and questions of national cinema in the Philippines. He is also interested in theorizations of cinematic temporality with regards to national identity, memory, spectatorship, and slowness, focusing specifically on Southeast Asian filmmakers. He is a member of the Media Fields Journal editorial collective.

This event is sponsored by the Carsey-Wolf Center and KCSB.


Throughout film history and across the globe, mediamakers have resisted social conventions and attracted the ire of governments and censorship boards. The Carsey-Wolf Center’s fall 2020 and winter 2021 screening series will showcase films and TV shows considered politically, socially, culturally, and ideologically subversive. From mischievous caricatures to biting social critiques, the events in this series invite discussion of the efficacy of subversion and the historical contexts that have rendered these works subversive in the first place.