Boots Riley on the politics of sci-fi
“I’m a sci-fi fan definitely,” says Boots Riley, the rap star who makes both his directing and genre debut with Sorry To Bother You, “but I have a critique of sci-fi in that many people on the left hide in sci-fi. They hide in it by creating worlds that are so different from our own that it’s fun to be in, but none of the lessons, none of the ideas that you put in there end up meaning anything.
“You could have ultra right-wing fans of Star Trek that say, ‘Star Trek is a socialist world,’ at least in the original ones. Star Wars was [originally created], according to Walter Murch – who was part of that whole [American] Zoetrope thing – because George Lucas had the idea for what became Apocalypse Now. He was making a movie that was following the Viet Cong as the protagonists go to find their version of Kurtz, who was somebody that had gone over to work with the US and become this big powerful person. Lucas couldn’t get it funded, so he was like, ‘Okay, I’m putting that story in space.’ So the Rebels are the Viet Cong, the Empire is the United States.
“But the point is, does it matter? You’re spending your life writing this thing, trapped away from people, sitting in bedrooms and offices and cafés, writing this stuff, putting these ideas about the world into these things that, as people take them in, it doesn’t matter to them, because we’ve divorced it so much from reality.
“The reason we can get them made is because they’re divorced from reality. It’s not just that it’s escapism. [These stories are] so allegorical that nobody understands what you’re getting at. And once they do understand, they can go on about their life without even applying it. I think there’s a way to use science fiction as a tool that doesn’t have to be so far removed from everything we’re doing [in real life].”