NOTE: I am interrupting my self-imposed, summer-long blog silence to put up this one post. I will resume regularly weekly posts on Monday, September 10.
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Art has the power to shock us out of our induced, enslaving confusion. It has the power--not a coercive, confining power, but a conducive, liberating one--to bring us light, disabusing us of the blindness imposed upon us.
In the specific case of Boots Riley's new movie, Sorry to Bother You, his very first film, which he wrote and directed--a film the seeing of which brought me to break my summer's blog-silence with this post--we are given a work of art that dispels the confusion between who we, the United States of America, really are and who we could become, if we were ever to become who we are ideally, and claim to be in both our national Pledge of Allegiance and our national anthem, the Star Spangled Banner.
What is more, in the process of dispelling our confusion on the essential matter of our own national identity, Sorry to Bother You also calls us all together into true solidarity with one another in an all-inclusive, truly united community.
The film is richly comedic, especially in its earlier scenes.
However, as comedic as the film is in its earlier portions, it grows darker as it proceeds, until it suddenly morphs into something deeply disturbing--or at least something that should be deeply disturbing, to anyone who views it. It will surely disturb anyone who does go view it, and who has been given eyes to see and ears to hear.
Sorry to Bother You tells us the truth about what the United States of America is, about who we are: "we, the people," who are what that very nation itself is, in the very most important sense.
Be disturbed--be very disturbed!
In his recent collection of essays How to Write an Autobiographical Novel (Mariner Books, 2018), American novelist and teacher Alexander Chee, a gay man of Korean descent, defines the United States as a place where "you are allowed to speak the truth as long as nothing changes."
I pray that wide distribution and viewership for Sorry to Bother You might help to break us all out of such a prison of a United States of America, where one is free to speak the truth only if that truth is a trivial one that is never allowed to make any difference.
I pray that enough of "us" may see the film and have it break us free from our chains, that it can call us all to come together in true solidarity as one single community, inclusive of all its many rich and multifarious parts, from gays, to lesbians, to the transgendered, to queers, to African-American rappers and film-makers, to elderly, privileged white-boys-grown-old-men like me.
May we all go see it.
Then may the truth the film tells call us all out from behind our cashiers' counters, academics' podiums, and administrators' desks. May it call us all away from our cubicles, counters, offices, factories, or other places of work. May it call us all out into the streets, where we all belong, together.