Musician Boots Riley’s first foray into cinema, “Sorry to Bother You, ” sold to Annapurna Pictures at Sundance for a reported seven figures. The comedy/sci-fi/magical-realism hybrid premiered in Park City on January 20 as part of the festival’s U.S. Dramatic Competition. “Get Out” actor Lakeith Stanfield plays Cassius Green, a black telemarketer from Oakland who realizes that it’s more lucrative for him make his voice sound like a white person’s.
In his B+ review, IndieWire’s Eric Kohn praised the “whip-smart satire of racial dynamics in the workplace,” which “leaves you with the impression that even the most ridiculous moments contain some tidbits of truth.” Numerous bidders were said to vie for the film’s worldwide rights. Academy Award winner Forest Whitaker (“The Last King of Scotland”) is among the producers (his Significant Productions also backed “Fruitvale Station,” a Sundance breakout five years ago). Riley, a onetime film student at San Francisco State University, was one of eight novice directors selected for Sundance Institute’s 2016 Director’s Lab (and an honoree at IndieWire’s First-Time Filmmakers Dinner this week).
Courtesy of Sundance Institute, photo by Jonathan Hickerson
Founded by Megan Ellison seven years ago, Annapurna is the studio behind four Best Picture Oscar nominees: “Zero Dark Thirty,” “American Hustle,” “Her,” and this season’s “Phantom Thread,” which is up for five additional statuettes. “We fucking love this movie,” said the company of its first pickup of the festival.
Stanfield’s co-stars include Armie Hammer (as his boss) and Tessa Thompson, portraying his girlfriend. In a Women in Film, Los Angeles event at Sundance this weekend, Thompson said that Riley loosely based the script on his personal experience working as a telemarketer, and that Stanfield’s “white voice” was dubbed by a Caucasian actor. “I’ve long wanted to work in this space of magical realism in film,” she said. “I feel like for some reason there aren’t a lot of people of color who get to occupy those spaces.”
Speaking to IndieWire prior to Sundance, the festival’s director of programming, Trevor Groth, and director, John Cooper, laughed while describing “Sorry to Bother You,” calling it “wild” and “a really sharp satire, funny, weird — it’s hard to quantify what exactly it is, but it’s one that will really get people excited and talking.”