- Pax Ahimsa Gethen
- The Coup ringleader — and known Tom Morello collaborator — Boots Riley will be speaking at UCCS following a screening of his debut film Sorry to Bother You.
From 6:30-9:30 p.m., the event will feature a free and open-to-the-public screening of hip-hop musician activist Boots Riley’s film Sorry to Bother You followed by a question-and-answer session with the director. The UCCS stop is Riley’s last in a statewide speaking tour.
Sorry to Bother You is Riley’s debut as a feature film director, but hip-hop fans should already be well acquainted with him as the frontman of Oakland-based band The Coup, formed in 1991 and renowned for both their eclectic sound and truly radical political edge. Riley also worked with Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello in the rap-rock supergroup Street Sweeper Social Club, which released an LP and EP in the late 2000s.
Sorry to Bother You made its theatrical run earlier this year, proving to be both critically acclaimed — with many critics and moviegoers hailing Riley as an exciting and fresh new cinematic voice — as well as provocative for its explorations of race relations and class dynamics within capitalism.
But don’t worry; even if social and economic analysis isn’t your idea of a fun Friday night, the film’s freewheeling, borderline-surreal imagination is enough to capture any viewer’s attention, with Riley describing it on Twitter as “an absurdist dark comedy with aspects of magical realism and science fiction — inspired by the world of telemarketing.”
Of course, the varying skill-sets of emcees, producers, writers and directors are rarely mastered by a single person, but the film’s eclectic creativity shouldn’t come as any surprise, given that Riley has been making some of the most vibrant hip-hop of the past two decades.
The 1998 LP Steal This Album, for instance, features tracks like “Underdogs” and “Me and Jesus the Pimp in a ’79 Granada Last Night,” both of which match deeply funky, soulful production with strikingly emotional, witty and, dare one say, cinematic, storytelling. The controversial 2001 LP Party Music also earned serious critical acclaim. It was named one of Spin’s top 20 albums of the year, and also landed the #8 spot in The Village Voice’s esteemed Pazz and Jop Poll.
And then there was The Coup’s 2012 LP, which shares the title of the film Sorry to Bother You, and features live instrumentation that lent a heavy, nearly punk-rock punch of guitars, synths and even accordions to Riley’s lyrical polemics on cuts such as “The Magic Clap,” “You Are Not a Riot” and “The Guillotine.”
In addition to his bona fides as a multi-media Renaissance man, Riley comes by his stalwart political views honestly, joining the Youth International Committee Against Racism and Progressive Labor Party as a teenager and subsequently working as an activist, educator and organizer for decades.
How Sorry to Bother You tackles eerily timely political issues without bothering to target any specific political figures might surprise viewers. This approach would be a rarity in any era of American satire, with its frequent emphasis on figureheads; however, it seems particularly noticeable during Donald Trump’s presidency, wherein the president’s larger-than-life personality seems to offer a more inviting canvas than the trickier realm of actual policy and power dynamics.
Riley made this decision during production because he wanted a more comprehensive exploration of class in American society, but also because the film’s initial screenplay was written in 2012, inspired by his experiences working as a telemarketer and telefundraiser. With no means of producing the film at the time, the screenplay was published in an issue of McSweeney’s back in 2014.
Ultimately, Sorry to Bother You promises to be a strange and remarkable piece of pop culture from one of the most original and outspoken voices in both music and cinema. The fact that Riley will be there in person makes this an all the more essential event.
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