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Detroit: This is morally emaciating. I can't ride with you.
Cash: I’m doing this and I’m really good at it.
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Sorry to Bother You is a 2018 absurdist sci-fi black comedy film written and directed by rapper Boots Riley (The Coup, Street Sweeper Social Club) in his directorial debut.

Cassius "Cash" Green (Lakeith Stanfield) is a down-on-his-luck Oaklander who wins a job as a telemarketer at a company called RegalView. Initially not very successful in the position, an older coworker (Danny Glover) recommends he'd earn a higher commission from clients by using his "white voice" (provided by David Cross) while on the phone with them.

When Cash starts to follow that strategy, his career at RegalView takes off in a big way, and he's promoted to the position of "Power Caller" by Mr. _______ (Omari Hardwick), an elusive senior member of the company who's also a black man using a "white voice" (provided by Patton Oswalt).

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Despite his lofty new status, it puts a strain on his relationships with girlfriend Detroit (Tessa Thompson) and their friends and fellow co-workers (Jermaine Fowler and Steven Yeun). Armie Hammer and Terry Crews also star.


Sorry to Bother You provides examples of:

  • The Alleged Car: The jalopy Cash drives in the first half of the film. He gets a much better car — a Maserati Quattroporto — once he becomes a Power Caller.
  • Ambiguous Ending: The film ends with an equisapien Cash leading a mob of fellow equisapiens on a storming of Lift's house. We see one break open the door to the room Lift is in, roar, and snap his head in Lift's direction before the film cuts to black and ends, leaving us to assume exactly how the equisapiens exacted their revenge on Lift.
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  • Ambition Is Evil: As befitting a film decrying the dangers of capitalism. WorryFree and RegalView are entirely amoral in their pursuit for money. Cassius' Fatal Flaw is his ambition which leads him to abandon his friends, girlfriend, morals and culture.
  • And Then John Was a Zombie: When Cash is told that humans are turned into equisapiens using a gene-modifying powder that looks oddly similar to the cocaine Lift had him snort just prior, he reasonably has a Freak Out! moment. Lift calms Cash down and assures him that he gave him coke, and wouldn't be evil enough to give him the powder without Cash's knowledge. The importance of this moment isn't revealed until the very end, once it's put at the back of our heads. Everything seems to be back to normal...but Cash now has horrifically mutated nostrils, signifying the start of his equisapien transformation. However, it isn't all bad; once Cash finishes his transformation, he teams up with a group of fellow equisapiens to exact revenge on Lift.
  • Animal Motifs: Horses, as a symbol of how rich capitalists treat their laborers.
  • Animorphism: It's revealed that WorryFree has been turning humans into half-horse hominids called "equisapiens" for cheap labor.
  • Arc Words: "Stick to the script."
  • Asshole Victim: Few, if any, will feel sorry for Lift once his house gets stormed by equisapiens unwillingly mutated at his hand at the very end.
  • Author Tract: The film was primarily made to critique capitalism and American consumer culture, though Boots Riley is a little subtler about it than other creators might be.
  • Bad "Bad Acting": When Cash tries to rap and sucks at it. In real life, Lakeith Stanfield is a rapper when he is not acting.
  • Beard of Evil: The amoral boss Steve Lift sports a coiffed beard.
  • Berate and Switch: The film opens with Cash at an interview for a job at RegalView. From the "employee of the month" plaque and the massive trophy Cash brings, he seems incredibly qualified—at least, until the interviewer reveals that Cash lied on his résumé, claiming to have worked at a place for the same two years that the interviewer did, while never seeing him once. Furthermore, his friend Sal happened to apply for the same job, and the interviewer gets Cash to admit to forging both the plaque and trophy. However, the interviewer bluntly states that his standards for a good telemarketer are ridiculously low, and Cash walks out with the job.
  • Bigger Is Better in Bed: The equisapiens are all literally hung like horses, and the camera is not afraid to show it. Lift even tries to argue having "a horse cock" is great incentive for Cash turning himself into an equisapien.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Cash ends up friends again with Squeeze and Salvador and back with Detroit, but just before the credits roll his nose horrifically contorts into horse nostrils, meaning Lift did mutate him with the coke he snorted in his office. The Stinger shows Equisapien Cash leading others like himself into Lift's home, presumably to exact their revenge on him.
  • Bland-Name Product: The brand Soda Cola is mentioned.
  • Body Horror: While the film doesn't display a full transformation from human to equisapien—we only see the end result and one of the starting stages—it's portrayed as truly horrific. By extension, the final image of Cash with horse nostrils is at the very least disquieting.
  • Body Wipe: At one point, Mr. ________ walks into the camera and Detroit out the other side.
  • Bring My Brown Pants: Cash's discovery of the equisapiens is accidental, spurred by him needing to pee and entering the wrong room. After he exits the room and Lift finds him, he asks if Cash still needs to pee. He doesn't, because he already wet his pants.
  • But Not Too Black: The initial thrust of the plot is Cash's ability to sound white on the phone, which helps him in his job.
  • Butt-Monkey: Cash has to become one on the game show I Got the Shit Kicked Out of Me! so they'll air his video proof of the equisapiens.
  • The Cameo: Several, all voice-only cameos:
  • Can't Stop the Signal: Cash tries to expose WorryFree's crimes, first to the press, then on a popular TV show. It doesn't work; politicians rally around WorryFree, the company's stock price skyrockets, and literal cults start worshiping Steve Lift.
  • Capitalism Is Bad: The whole film is about how capitalism neglects, exploits, and literally dehumanizes workers.
  • Category Traitor: Cash's black friends frown upon his use of a white voice and the success coming with it.
  • Coitus Uninterruptus: One of the people Cash calls in his failed first telemarketing attempts is a woman in the middle of sex, with her partner completely undeterred by the call.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Steve Lift is the CEO of WorryFree, and he's clearly not up to any good.
  • Crapsack World: This version of the United States seems to be a lot worse off than our own in several ways; poverty is sky-high, with most jobs being literal slave labor at Mega Corps like WorryFree, and the most popular show in America is a Sadist Show dedicated to torturing and humiliating random people for no reason. Things are so bad that after the Big Bad's plan to replace his own labor force with mutant horse people is leaked to the world, the company's stock doubles.
  • Creepy Changing Painting: Not really creepy, but Cassius has a photograph of a man posed in front of a lowrider on his nightstand, and keeps a photocopy of it at work. The man's mood and appearance changes throughout the movie depending on what has happened in the story.
  • Cringe Comedy: Cash's attempts to rap for the entirely white party at Steve Lift's penthouse despite being completely incapable of rapping. After a couple of abortive attempts at freestyling that draw awkward stares from the audience, he gives up and just starts yelling the N-word repeatedly, causing the entire crowd to chant along.
  • Cruel Twist Ending: In the midst of what seems to be a happy conclusion, with everything back to normal, Cash's nostrils suddenly mutate into that of a horse—or rather, an equisapien. Played with, in that this actually gives him the physical power to fight back.
  • Cut Himself Shaving: Detroit asks Cash about his head bandage and he responds with this line. Very convincing.
  • Distinction Without a Difference: Steve Lift insists that WorryFree lifetime contracts where people cannot leave the company's factories are absolutely not slavery, since workers were not forced to sign them under duress.
  • Double-Meaning Title: The meaning of the film's title goes two ways; on a surface level, it refers to the phrase commonly used by telemarketers, but it carries a deeper meaning of it being used when telling someone something they likely don't want to hear, like the film's anti-capitalist sentiments.
  • Evil, Inc.: WorryFree is introduced as being this, but we only learn their exact goals close to the end. They're turning people into "equisapiens" for cheap labor.
  • Evil Uncle: Downplayed and subverted by Sergio, who has not only let Cassius live in his garage but also let him slide four weeks behind on his rent.
  • Eye Patch Of Power: Mr. ________ wears one.
  • Fan Disservice: See Male Frontal Nudity.
    • The Power Caller elevator mixes graphic descriptions of sex with business buzzwords spoken in a robotic female voice.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Steve Lift initially seems to be Affably Evil when his intentions are revealed, but the leaked video clip from Cash's phone proves otherwise.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • During Cash's opening RegalView job interview, the interviewer remarks that telemarketing is not a task he sees as requiring qualification like assembling a human genome. Considering humans mutate into equisapiens through a powder that modifies one's genes, it seems like that might have been a lie.
    • Steve Lift is riding a horse in the cover photo on his book. And right before The Reveal, he has Cash snort coke off a plate showing the horse "Mr. Bobo."
    • Mr. _______ dabs the blood off Cassius' face, and keeps the napkin for genetic information purposes.
    • The morning after Cash snorts Lift's "coke", he has Detroit check several of his body parts to see if they've gotten bigger. One of them is his nostrils, which Detroit notes do look bigger until he breaks down crying, making her change her mind to make him feel better. At the very end of the film, the first sign of Cash's equisapien transformation is the mutation of his nostrils—so maybe he should've listened.
    • While covering the strike at RegalView, the news reporter says "The cavalry has arrived" in response to more SWAT officers showing up to the scene. Later, those same SWAT officers are routed by the newly freed equisapiens, who are literal horsemen.
  • Funny Background Event: On Cash’s first day, the copier in the side room malfunctions, never in focus, but increasingly absurdly every time the camera cuts back to the view.
  • Get a Room!: Early in the movie, Cash and Detroit are continuously kissing and begin disrobing with sexual intents—only for the door to their room (read: Sergio's garage door) to fly open, exposing them to the whole neighborhood. As Cash hurriedly closes the door, someone shouts "Get a room!", to which he responds, "I already got one, motherfucker!"
  • Gory Discretion Shot: See Ambiguous Ending above.
  • The Hedonist: Steve Lift spends all his free time doing coke and hosting orgies at his penthouse.
  • Hookers and Blow: What Steve Lift does with his free time.
  • Hypocritical Humor:
    • The angry anti-capitalist protester of "Have a Cola and Smile, Bitch" fame immediately cashes in on her viral fame and starts endorsing the same brand of cola she used to bean Cassius in the head with.
    • Detroit rags on Cassius for selling out and using a "white voice" to talk to customers but it turns out she also uses a white voice to sell her art.
  • I Always Wanted to Say That: After telling Cash "Let's do this, mu-tha-fuck-ah", Diana DeBauchery notes that she always wanted to say that.
  • I Am One of Those, Too: In his résumé, Cash claims to have worked from 2014 to 2016 as a teller at the Bank of Oakland. At his interview, the hiring manager reveals that he was the branch manager of that bank at the time and he doesn't remember Cash having worked there. Busted.
  • Instant Humiliation: Just Add YouTube!: Cash becomes famous from a viral video of a protester beaning him in the forehead with a full can of soda.
  • It Is Pronounced "Tro-PAY": Diana DeBauchery insists her name is pronounced "Dee-Bo-Cherry."
  • Know When to Fold 'Em: One of RegalView's principles is knowing when to "bag 'em" (hang up a call).
  • La Résistance:
    • The Left Eye Faction, a radical anti-WorryFree group that specializes in protests and vandalism of WorryFree ads by means of spray paint.
    • The telemarketer union that assembles among Cash's coworkers (notably led by Squeeze and Sal) also counts.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: Cash's friend Salvador notes that his white voice sounds overdubbed.
  • Love Triangle: It's implied that Cash and Detroit are in one with Squeeze, who shares a brief flirtation with her at one point, and is seen disappointed when they reunite after breaking up.
  • Magical Realism: Hints of it. Notably, Cash and Mr. _______'s "white voices" seem to be borderline supernatural in their ability to attract customers, and sound nothing like the actors' real voices (being provided by the exceptionally white comedians David Cross and Patton Oswalt instead).
  • Male Frontal Nudity: Weirdly played with. Equisapiens are mutated from humans, and they're naked by default. We end up seeing the penis of the first one we see in the film, and let's just say Lift's prioritization of "horse cock" in selling the idea to Cash was not completely baseless.
  • Martial Arts Headband: Cash's bloody bandage seems to evoke this. After he gets clocked in the head with the Soda Cola, he wears this for the entire middle act of the film. Something of a subversion; the moment he finally rolls up his sleeves to do something important that he believes in is when the bandage comes off.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • The protagonist's name is Cassius Green, a pun on "Cash is green", symbolizing his greedy nature. Doubles as Wealth's in a Name.
    • Played with Mr. _______'s lack of name, symbolizing his loss of identity. It's also a reference to the identically named "Mr. _______" from The Color Purple.
    • Detroit is a birthplace for a lot of black artists and culture. Birthplace of the American auto industry, associated with streamlining assembly line production. Birthplace of Motown. Modern-day economic decline is its contemporary claim to infamy. Detroit Red was also the nickname of Malcolm X prior to his activism.
    • In line with that, Cassius could also be a nod to Cassius Clay, the birth name of world champion boxer and activist Muhammad Ali (who was close friends with Malcolm X around the time of his rise to prominence). Ali was similarly decried as both a sellout and a troublemaker at different points in his life.
    • If you think of calling for more benefits as doing such to a company, "Squeeze" is indeed trying to squeeze RegalView for more.
  • Messianic Archetype: Lift explains he wants to give the equisapiens an apparent one: Cash. He even name-drops Martin Luther King Jr.
  • Modern Minstrelsy: The rap scene. The only time Cash's employers tell him to drop the white voice in a work-related setting is when he's pressured to act stereotypical and pander to a rich white crowd.
  • Moment Killer: The downsides of Cash and Detroit using their garage space as a bedroom are shown when the garage door suddenly opens as they're about to have sex, putting them in full view of the neighborhood.
  • Monochrome Casting: Most of the primary cast is made of black actors, save for Steven Yeun and Armie Hammer.
  • Mood Whiplash: One of the people Cash talks to during his first telemarketing attempts is an old woman who rejects Cash's offers. Her rationale for turning Cash down shifts the scene's tone dramatically: she has no money due to her husband having stage 4 cancer.
  • National Geographic Nudity: The bare breasts of the prehistoric female in the promo video for WorryFree's Equisapiens.
  • National Stereotypes: Lift deploys two black stereotypes on Cash in close proximity at his party. Lift initially asks Cash to tell stories of his "gangster life", to which Cash admits that he's never experienced anything of the sort. Lift then tries cajoling him into a rap—which he falsely thinks Cash is naturally talented at.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: The trailers were cut in a way that made the movie look more comedic than it actually was.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed:
    • Steve Lift appears to be a parody of SpaceX and Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk, with possibly some John McAfee added for flavor.
    • Detroit's performance art exhibition is strongly reminiscent of Marina Abramovic's various projects.
  • No Name Given: Mr. _______'s surname is bleeped out and the speaker's lips are blurred whenever it's spoken; writer-director Boots Riley says it's meant to be typed as seven underscores.
  • Not So Different: Despite Detroit ragging on Cash for selling out and presenting himself as something other than who he really is, she has a "white voice" too. Lily James voices Detroit when she's debuting her art performance.
  • N-Word Privileges: See Piss-Take Rap below.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: Mr. _________ drops his White Voice only once, to inform Cash that Steve Lift wants to meet with him.
  • Overly Long Gag:
    • Cash and the weird assistant manager at RegalView high-fiving after Cash starts making sales.
    • Diana DeBauchery typing in the passcode number in the Power Caller elevator.
  • Painful Transformation: The start of Cash's transformation into a equisapien is portrayed this way.
  • A Party, Also Known as an Orgy: The party at Steve Lift's penthouse, which just degenerates into various coked-up partygoers screwing on every piece of furniture in the building.
  • People Farms: Steve Lift's ultimate plan to turn WorryFree into one of these with the horse transformation serum.
  • Performance Artist: Detroit identifies as such, and one of her demonstrations is shown in a scene.
  • Piss-Take Rap: When Cash is told to rap at Steve Lift's party (since he's black and therefore has a natural skill at it), he struggles and mumbles poor rhymes, and then settles for just yelling the N-word into the mic. All the guests, nearly all white, then start chanting along.
  • Pointy-Haired Boss: Cassius' managers at RegalView. Diana DeBauchery does little more than babble random buzzwords while Johnny gives similarly unhelpful advice. All care more about profits than their workers.
  • Police Brutality: The cops are on WorryFree's payroll, and resort to brutal violence when the telemarketers' union goes on strike.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Lift is casually racist to his black subordinates. When he invites Cash to his penthouse, he assumes that Cash must be good at rapping just because he's black and basically commands him to rap for his white friends, leading to one of the biggest moments of Cringe Comedy in the movie.
  • Poverty Food: Squeeze during his rally speech:
    "We want enough money to not eat Cup O' Noodles every night."
  • Pre-Asskicking One-Liner: "Sorry to bother you" is Title Dropped one last time just before Cash sics a mob of equisapiens on Lift.
  • Produce Pelting: Invoked by Detroit who asks the audience to throw stuff at her during her on-stage performance. After all, True Art Is Incomprehensible.
  • Promotion, Not Punishment: After Cash partakes in a workplace-wide protest against RegalView, we see him getting called in by his bosses. Given Squeeze's prior note that some involved in the protest would be singled out, we automatically assume something bad will happen. It turns out that the bosses are barely deterred by the protest and instead wanted to promote Cash to Power Caller.
  • Rags to Riches: Cash goes from an anonymous desk jockey living in his uncle's garage and driving The Alleged Car to a Power Caller with his own penthouse suite thanks to the power of his white voice.
  • Resistance as Planned: This is WorryFree's secret plan for Cash: To have him organize and run the equisapien resistance, so that he can report on it right back to WorryFree.
  • Rewarded as a Scab Deserves: Cash goes through a Humiliation Conga after becoming a power caller and betraying the strike by going to work. His higher position job requires him to use his white voice at all times, except at a party where the white crowd pressures him into doing a minstrel rap act, and he eventually turns into a horse-man.
  • Running Gag:
    • Detroit’s unique custom-made earrings.
    • Various people making or wearing the "Have a Cola and Smile, Bitch!" costume, and Cash's mix of outrage and confusion at it.
  • Sadist Show: Exaggerated with I Got the Shit Kicked Out of Me!, a game show that solely revolves around people being violently beaten and otherwise humiliated (we hear mentionings of drinking hyena urine and being submerged in a "shit tank"). It doesn't have a small, niche audience of twisted folk—it's the most popular show in America, with 150 million viewers per episode.
    Langston: It makes me feel warm inside.
  • Screw the Money, I Have Rules!: Cash grows his morals back and declines Lift's proposal of a personal assignment, becoming the equisapiens' leader who is secretly WorryFree's Mole in Charge.
    "There's no amount of money that will make me do that."
  • Second-Act Breakup: Cash and Detroit split up in the second act once Cash's scaling up the job ladder and simultaneously leaving his friends' union in the dirt strains their relationship. They reunite by the end.
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: Cash debuts his white voice by saying, "To my esteemed RegalView associates whom I revere with great fervor, and to my alluring and phenomenally talented fiancée, I'd like to dedicate this imbibing of intoxicating elixirs. Here's to becoming a Power Caller!"
  • Shout-Out: The WorryFree video, animated via stop-motion claymation that suggests the style of Michel Gondry, is credited to "Michel Dongry." Doubles as a Stealth Pun.
  • Show Within a Show: The most popular show on TV is a game show called I Got the Shit Kicked Out of Me!, which is Exactly What It Says on the Tin.
  • Silent Offer: Lift's offer to Cash takes the form of a handwritten note reading, "I'm offering you $100,000,000."
  • Smash to Black: Towards the end when Cash gets hit in the head by a SWAT member, there is a five-second cut to a black screen.
  • Soap Box Sadie: Cash's coworker friends are all activist-types, but Squeeze especially is a highly sympathetic male version of this trope. It's stated that his "thing" is joining different work environments and helping to organize their workers (making him a "salt" in labor organizing parlance).
  • Title Drop: Multiple times during Cash's first attempts at telemarketing. Come the end of the film, a now-fully-equisapien Cash repurposes it into a Pre-Asskicking One-Liner before he sics an equisapien mob on Lift.
  • Toilet Humor:
    • Cash calls a prominent Japanese businessman while the latter is on the crapper.
    • In order to promote his video, Cash must fall into a pile of poop.
  • Translation by Volume: After a group of equisapiens easily overpowers riot police, Cash tries expressing his gratitude by talking loudly and slowly, at which point one of the equisapiens responds in a normal human voice, telling him it was unnecessary.
  • True Art Is Incomprehensible: Detroit's performance art which has her reciting lines from The Last Dragon while being pelted with cellphones, sheep's blood and bullets. In-Universe, Cash can't understand why she would subject herself to it.
  • Vertigo Effect: The background behind Cash zooms out when he looks in awe at the golden door of the Power Caller elevator.
  • Visual Pun: The protest at the end is saved by the timely arrival of the equisapiens, almost literally The Cavalry.
  • Wham Shot:
    • Cash gets lost trying to find the door to the bathroom in Lift's house and stumbles in a room with stalls. He opens one of the doors to find a naked horse-human hybrid spilling out, screaming for help.
    • The very final shot before the credits. Everything's back to normal, and Cash lifts his garage door to show Detroit the renovations to their room; when he closes the door, he cries out in pain. Did he, perhaps, hit his face on the door by accident? Nope. He now has horse nostrils.
  • The Whitest Black Guy: Discussed. Cash doesn't see himself as very white-acting, but his black friends unanimously agree that he's the "whitest" one among them.
  • Who Names Their Kid "Dude"?: Detroit. She says her parents "wanted [her] to have an American name."

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