Boots Riley Knows Why ‘Sorry To Bother You’ Got Snubbed By Oscars Voters


Oscar nomination day is a chance for critics and movie fans alike to get their opinions about a year’s worth of films validated. Or, as is often the case, it gives them another slew of gripes about the makeup and voting preferences of the Academy of Motion Pictures Sciences and Arts.

That was once again the case early Tuesday morning, as the nominees for the 91st Academy Awards were revealed. The final lists also meant new lists could be published: full of snubs for directors, actors, overall films, and more. Representation for people of color on these nomination lists was once again a major topic of discussion. But the director of one movie that made plenty of snubs lists isn’t upset with the Academy for ignoring it this award season.

That director is Boots Riley, who also wrote the 2018 film Sorry To Bother You. The surreal dark comedy is a truly brilliant, bizarre snapshot of 2018. It drew rave reviews upon its release, both for the film’s style, its surprises and acting performances from Lakeith Stanfield and Tessa Thompson. Uproxx’s own Vince Mancini called the film a work of genius and his favorite film of 2018. It was not nominated for a single Academy Award on Tuesday.

As Mancini noted on Tuesday there’s something ironic about a movie centered around a labor dispute not getting a nomination in an award show that was primarily invented as a union-busting scheme. But Riley was far less conspiratorial and far more practical when addressing a lack of nominations for his film on Tuesday. The director sent out a number of tweets on Tuesday explaining why he expected the film not to get nominated and went into detail about the exact reasons why he won’t take away any hardware for it.

Riley made it clear: people, including a lot of voters in the Academy, liked his film. But there are other factors at play: namely the Spiral of Silence theory.

Award season campaigns are far from a secret outside of Hollywood circles. An award season blitz was even a major arc in Bojack Horseman. But the more amateur movie fan watching films in their hometown theater might not realize why the brilliant performances they rave about to friends might not translate to Oscar buzz without a significant financial investment into distributing screeners and funding a marketing push during the award season blitz.

Without a paid campaign to reinforce buzz about a movie or performance, Academy voters will assume they’re throwing away their vote if they don’t use it on a film or nominee that will also get votes from their peers. This spiral of silence applies to any number of different things, from media coverage of news events to the magnification of FOMO based on whatever it seems like your Twitter feed is watching on TV. But it definitely applies to awards voting, and Riley understands that. In fact, he makes it clear that because there was no major investment into a campaign, those involved in the film resigned themselves to not getting any nominations from the beginning.

And according to Riley, that’s OK.

The Twitter thread got a good amount of attention among actors and directors and was cosigned by a number of different Hollywood voices, including Patton Oswalt, who had a role in Sorry To Bother You.

There is certainly something to be said for enjoying award season for what it is, even if well-deserved accolades don’t come your way. And it’s an extremely grounded, practical approach to what could be a disappointing day for a talented writer and actor. Oswalt is right in his evaluation here: Riley was very careful not to minimize the work of those nominated for an award many feel he and his film deserve. Instead of tearing down an institution that routinely ignores people of color, he added important context to the process and celebrated his involvement in it all. It may be a rigged game for films like his, but it’s a game Riley knows well. And on a day that had to be at least a little disappointing, he did the best he could to turn it into a valuable lesson.