Sorry to Bother You

Sorry to Bother You Information

Sorry to Bother You is a 2018 American science fiction 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 or 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, and was theatrically released in the United States on July 6, 2018, by Annapurna Pictures. The film received positive reviews from critics, who praised the cast and concept, as well as Riley's script and direction.


In an alternate present-day version of Oakland, ads for a company called WorryFree offer a life free of the worry of paying bills and free food and lodging, but at the cost of a lifetime contract of working, a practice deemed legal and not equivalent to slavery. A radical group called "The Left Eye" oppose WorryFree and vandalize their advertisements and protest. 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 at the RegalView company with his friend Sal. At RegalView, Cassius initially has trouble selling to customers, before an older coworker, Langston, teaches him to use his "white voice" to sell. Cash finds success using his "white voice", and his manager suggests he'll soon be promoted to the elusive and mysterious position of "Power Caller".

Cash joins a union led by his coworker Squeeze to lobby for raises. However, despite disrupting work as part of the union, Cash is still promoted to Power Caller. In the Power Caller suite, Cash learns to only use his white voice, and that RegalView sells weaponry and human labor from WorryFree. Cash makes a huge sale on his first day, enabling him to pay back Sergio and buy a new car and apartment for himself and Detroit, although Detroit questions whether the reality of Cash's job is worth the pay. Cash stops participating in the union, claiming he still supports them from the sidelines. His relationship with Detroit starts to deteriorate, and she starts showing more interest in Squeeze. The union organizes a large picket line outside RegalView; while being escorted across the picket line by police to get to work, Cash is hit in the head with a soda can thrown by a protester. A video of the event goes viral, the protester becomes a celebrity, and Cash is widely mocked by the public.

After more sales, Cash is invited to a party with Steve Lift, the CEO of WorryFree; he leaves Detroit's art show early for it. At the party, Lift first asks him about stereotypical black experiences and pressures him into freestyle rapping for the party. Lift goes to a meeting with Cash after the party, and Cash snorts the cocaine Lift offers him. Looking for the bathroom, Cash goes into the wrong door and finds a half-horse, half-human hybrid begging for help. Cash drops his phone and runs into Lift, who tries to calm him down by explaining how WorryFree are planning to make their workers into half-horse, half-human hybrids, referred to as equisapiens, by getting them to snort a gene-modifying powder similar to cocaine. Lift explains he wants Cash to become an equisapien and act as a revolutionary figure among them to keep them in line, offering Cash $100,000,000 to be an equisapien for 5 years, after which he can take a "defusing powder" and return to his normal self.

Cash becomes worried he was tricked into snorting the gene powder, and obsesses over whether his nose and penis are getting larger. Cash visits Detroit, who tells him she received a video message from his missing phone. Cash opens it and finds the equisapiens have filmed a message for help. The video also shows Lift abusively yelling at them. To make the video viral, Cash uses his viral fame from the can video to go on a reality show called "I Got the S#*@ Kicked Out of Me!" and agrees to get beat up and swim through a tank of feces if they'll play his video. The audience is shocked by the video, but it backfires, with WorryFree's stock reaching an all time high with the reveal of their scientific advancement. Cash apologizes to Squeeze, Sal, and Detroit. The union decides to make one last stand in the picket line, now joined by Cash.

The next day, the callers set up their trap, and as the riot police attempt to move the Power Callers through the protesters they run into a wall of statues from Detroit's exhibit, and are tackled by the football players from Cash's old high school. In the ensuing riot, Cash is knocked out by a policeman. Later that night, Cash wakes up in a police wagon and witnesses the equisapiens fighting back against the police, easily overpowering the police with their superior strength. They then free him, Squeeze, Sal, and Detroit, and run off to keep fighting.

The next day, Cash gives Sal his Maserati, moves back into Sergio's renovated garage, and decides to become a caller on the bottom floor again. However, as everything seems back to normal, Cash sneezes and grabs his face in pain. He looks up, revealing the massive nostrils of a horse on his face. A fully transformed Cash subsequently leads the other equisapiens into Lift's house, breaking down the door and roaring at him.



Boots Riley's 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. 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.

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. The same month, Armie Hammer, Jermaine Fowler, Omari Hardwick and Terry Crews also joined the cast. In July 2017, Danny Glover, David Cross and Patton Oswalt joined the cast of the film, with Kate Berlant, Robert Longstreet and Michael Sommers being added later the same month.


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


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.


The film had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on January 20, 2018. Shortly after, Annapurna Pictures acquired distribution rights. It also screened at South by Southwest on March 12, 2018. The film was initially scheduled to be released on June 29, 2018, but was pushed back a week to July 6, 2018, where it began with a limited release before expanding wider on July 13.


Box office

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. 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. 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.

Critical response

On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 95% based on 150 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." 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". Audiences polled by PostTrak gave the film an 84% overall positive score and a 72% "definite recommend".

Josiah Hughes from Exclaim! gave the film a rating of 9/10, saying "Sorry to Bother You belongs to a rich tradition of satires, falling in line with everything from Putney Swope to Pootie Tang to Idiocracy to UHF. Bright, loud, audacious and endlessly fun, Sorry to Bother You is one giant, beautiful middle finger of a debut."

See also

  • List of black films of the 2010s

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