Boots Riley’s Sorry to Bother You has had a successful summer at the box office, especially for a film that combines pro-labor politics and creepy horse people, which means it has also drawn its fair share of criticism. On Twitter, director Boots Riley decided to address how some people have misunderstood the character of Detroit, a revolutionary artist played by Tessa Thompson in oversize statement earrings. Thompson is the film’s only primary female character. She starts off by dating Lakeith Stanfield’s telemarketer Cassius before getting fed up with his politics and begins messing around with Steven Yeun’s union organizer Squeeze (spoiler alert: She gets back with Cassius at the end of the film). The film doesn’t pass the Bechdel test, and some have compared Detroit to a Manic Pixie Dream Girl.
Riley, however, wants to make it clear that he sees Detroit as having her own agency, and that “she engages in actions and projects that have nothing to do with Cassius, and the things she does or believes are not the thing that makes Cassius change.” “Detroit is not a prize to be won in this movie,” he insists. “She fucks who she wants because she wants to and when she wants to.” Riley explains that he wanted to expand on Detroit’s intellectual journey, as she wrestles with the efficacy of art under capitalism, but that ultimately the movie was told through Cassius. He concedes that it does fail the Bechdel test, but that the movie tries to represent other aspects of Detroit’s life fully: “I will put Detroit up against most of the movies that do pass the Bechdel test and will confidently say that most of them will not have a character close to as radical or feminist as she is.”