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Sorry to Bother You, Resistance and Work: What We Can Learn from Detroit

Tessa Thompson’s character “Detroit” wearing earrings that state “Wildly” on the left earring and “Original” on the right earring.

*explicit language used* *contains spoilers*

Sorry to Bother You (2018) is a wild ride. The lovely Tessa Thompson and her character in the film, Detroit, got me through.

Detroit is an artist, which already puts her at a juxtaposition with her boyfriend and main character, Cash who quickly becomes swept up with the greed of excelling at a corporate job. Their relationship offers an exposure of dramatic differences in work-related values. Cash viewed the telemarketing- corporate job as an opportunity to advance himself, as in make something of his life. He attached his success at work to his feeling of success in life overall. I feel that most of us watching the film could relate to that feeling. The stress and cognitive-divide of being driven by the possibility of success feels normalized in our commercialized, capitalistic world. We relate to Cash, we feel for Cash, and yet he is frustrating to watch. We wish that this fictional character who exists outside of our reality could break the mold that we do not necessarily have the freedom to. Detroit is our relief, our inspiration for resistance, at least she is for me.

Detroit’s outward expression, her style, (her earrings!!), and her art all offer a message of inspiration, resistance, and a vibrant, colorful “Fuck you” to the inauthenticity of capitalism. She is uniquely herself, independent, and unapologetic in her activism and her work. These attributes are of course complicated by Detroit’s performance at her art exhibit where she showcases a “White Voice” of her own. However, I argue that her appealing to her white audience had a motive far different than that of Cash. Detroit’s wealthy, gullible, Caucasian crowd could easily be persuaded by her performance to fork over money in order to be a part of this exclusive art scene. The money allowed her to continue the work that she actually enjoyed, sustaining her life as it was rather than what it could be. She used consumerism, materialism, and capitalism in a way that worked for her, rather than her working for the system. Detroit’s values are clearly first and foremost for the well-being of her friends, the pursuit of justice, and the ability to be her authentic self. In short, she is cool as fuck.

Let’s talk about those earrings. I feel that jewelry, clothing, make-up and the like are all forms of self-expression and resistance. Protest does not have to be verbal to be heard or to be powerful. That being said, Detroit’s earrings are an iconic, invaluable vehicle of her voice, of her activism. Clothing, art, music, film and writing are critical to the development of revolutionary thought. We all need inspiration to help get us through the day and to also help us in imagining a different way to live. I do not think that earrings are too simplistic of a way to accomplish this. Even what initially appears to be an act or a statement so small could amount to an inspired thought, and then perhaps a series of inspired thoughts. Who knows where it could go from there? We all have the potential to be inspired and to be inspiring. I think that is the brilliance of Detroit, she is both.

Resistance does not have to be a single grand endeavor. It is comprised of small acts, acted out by individuals who are not more special than the next. Every being has the potential to create change, and no change is too small because it is always noticed by someone even if that someone is oneself. I think it is far too easy to become caught up in the ideas of revolution that we forget to begin. Start where you can, how you can, however much that may be. Life is far too short to take small victories for granted. Small victories could even be drawing inspiration from a single character in a movie to write and be proud of that writing.

justice studies and political science student at Westminster College of Salt Lake City