Hexbyte  Tech News  Wired We Need a Radical New Way to Understand Screen Use

Hexbyte Tech News Wired We Need a Radical New Way to Understand Screen Use

Hexbyte Tech News Wired

Hexbyte  Tech News  Wired

Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg/Getty Images

To anyone reading this on a phone, tablet, laptop, or desktop (so, you know, basically all of you): We need to talk about how we talk about screen use.

For too long the conversation’s been stuck on how much time we spend on our devices, and the effect that time has on our well-being. The more salient question for a society in which people’s lives increasingly revolve around screens is how we spend that time. But to answer that question, we need better data.

First off, I know what you’re thinking: The point that screen time is about quality, not quantity, sounds stupidly obvious. And you’re right. It is stupidly obvious. And yet! It’s a point many people, a lot of them smart and well intentioned, have nevertheless overlooked or brushed aside these past few years in the face of mounting public concern that we are all hopelessly, problematically, or involuntarily attached—addicted, even—to our digital devices. In social science research today, it doesn’t matter if a survey respondent uses YouTube to practice conjugating irregular Spanish verbs or to binge on politically extremist rants. It all gets lumped under the unhelpfully broad umbrella of “screen time.”

The trouble is, a whole motherloving lot of that public concern has been driven by lackluster, and often contradictory, scientific results. Earlier this month, researchers from the Oxford Internet Institute published a study in the journal Nature Human Behavior that plainly illustrates how that happened: The gigantic surveys underlying many tech-use studies can be interpreted in such a variety of ways that two different researchers looking at the exact same data set can—and have!—reached opposite conclusions about the association between screen time and well-being.

And those associations? They’re tiny. Way too tiny to warrant the claims you’ve read that we’re all addicted to our devices, that excessive screen time is the new smoking, or that smartphones have led large swaths of society to the brink of the greatest mental health crisis in decades.

Note that saying “the alarmist claims you’ve read were unwarranted” is materially different from saying “our devices aren’t affecting us.” They obviously are. So much of our lives is mediated through the supercomputers in our pockets: How we eat and sleep, how we socialize and close ourselves off, how we bully and comfort, how we communicate and obfuscate, how we lie, hurt, and heal.

So how do we identify the things that are actually worth worrying over? By making bigger demands of the companies that are blocking us from getting answers.

The cruel irony, from a social scientist’s perspective, is that much of the data we seek (more, in fact, than has existed at any point in history) already exists on the servers of Facebook, Google, and several more of the most powerful companies on earth. Those corporations are the gatekeepers that hold researchers back from asking more urgent and incisive questions. For example: When college freshmen with depressive symptoms open YouTube, what do they watch? For how long? What does YouTube recommend them when they’re done, and what do they watch next?

When people battling anorexia tap through to Instagram, what profiles do they visit? What kinds of images do they linger on? What tags do they follow?

When middle-schoolers struggling with bullying in class pick up their phones, only to find that their tormentors have followed them onto Messenger or Instagram or Snapchat, what do they do with the abusive DMs? Whom do they reach out to for support? What online resources, if any, do they seek out?

Researchers would give almost anything to make these observations, because it would allow them to begin untangling the web of causes and correlations that bind our thoughts, behaviors, and development to our increasingly connected ways of being in the world.

The data that would answer those questions is protected—for business reasons, first and foremost, but also, increasingly, through regulations like GDPR, in the interest of public privacy. And while it’s true that all of these companies have hired researchers, including psychologists, to help them make sense of and leverage that data, its full potential will never be realized unless it’s made available to independent scientists.

Impossible, you say. Tech giants’ user data—like the algorithms that data is fed into—are this century’s most precious and closely guarded trade secrets. They’ll never part with it. And even if they were open to sharing, what company in a post-Cambridge Analytica world would risk the privacy fiasco of having that data fall into the wrong hands?

Maybe you’re right. Maybe scientists will have to find another way. Then again, you might be wrong: Less than a year ago, political scientist Gary King, director of Harvard University’s Institute for Quantitative Social Science, launched Social Science One—an independent research commission that will give social scientists unprecedented access to data inside Facebook and allow them to publish their findings without Facebook’s prior approval.

Make no mistake: Getting SSO off the ground was—and continues to be—a royal pain, what with all the legal paperwork, privacy concerns, and ethical considerations at play. Details of the industry-academic partnership are too complex to relate here (though I’ve written about them previously), but suffice it to say that King and his SSO cofounder, Stanford legal professor Nathan Persily, earlier this month published a 2,300-word update on the status of their initiative, more than half of which is devoted to the ongoing challenges they face in bringing it to fruition. “Complicating matters,” they write, “is the obvious fact that almost every part of our project has never even been attempted before.”

The good news is that the first studies to receive funding through Social Science One should be announced any day now. They will all focus on Facebook’s impact on democracy and elections.

But if all goes well, SSO could have a more lasting impact, by setting up a framework for secure, ethical, independent research within the tech giants. There’s no reason future investigations, funded and overseen by SSO or a similar outfit, can’t grapple with big questions on well-being. They should also involve companies other than Facebook. We not only want to know what a vulnerable individual watches on YouTube, we also want to know what’s happening when they go to Reddit, what questions they ask their Alexa or Google Home, or how they feel when they post on Instagram. We need these companies to open their doors, and their datastreams, in a prescribed way that respects every participant in the process.

We’ve let companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon build vast empires off our data. It’s time they start giving that data back to us.


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Hexbyte  Tech News  Wired Meet Santiago Siri, the Man With a Radical Plan for Blockchain Voting

Hexbyte Tech News Wired Meet Santiago Siri, the Man With a Radical Plan for Blockchain Voting

Hexbyte Tech News Wired

The future of voting is the blockchain. Or so says a political theorist who wants to make democracy work in the digital age.

Ryan Snook

A new movement says that crypto-voting can purify democracy—and eventually eliminate the need for governments altogether.

In a café on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, a one-time videogame developer turned political theorist named Santiago Siri is trying to explain to me how his nonprofit startup, Democracy.Earth, aims to fix the world’s broken politics with the help of the blockchain.

The conversation has already covered a dizzying amount of ground. We’ve discussed the emergence of the Westphalian order of nation-states in the 17th century, Russia’s interference in the 2016 US election, the total collapse of Venezuelan society, and Siri’s own experience of political corruption in his native Argentina. But he finally boils it all down to one short sentence.

“We want to tokenize the like,” Siri says. At the center of the project is the creation of what he calls “political cryptocurrency”—blockchain-generated tokens that users of Democracy.Earth’s software can spend as votes.

Siri grew up in Argentina, where he saw the effects of corruption on democracy first hand.

Sasha Arutyunova

The way Siri sees it, we have traded in the original liberating potential of the internet for sterile corporate serfdom. Our time spent online retweeting and upvoting and clicking on emojis serves mainly to help unaccountable corporations like Facebook, Google, and Twitter to better target us with advertising. Siri dreams of a new kind of social media platform on which we spend “vote tokens” that can do anything, from electing politicians and passing referendums to enacting the bylaws of a social club or establishing the business plan of a corporation. It’s democracy by click.

The vision is a radical departure from the one-person, one-vote, once-every-year-or-two trip to the ballot box we are familiar with—and by which, in Siri’s view, we are so ill-served. Users of Democracy.Earth’s one-size-fits-all governance platform—code-named Sovereign—would have infinite flexibility to vote on any kind of topic or person, whenever they log on. In the Democracy.Earth future, every day will be election day, and the ballot will include anything that enough of us think should be there.

In this perfect world, Siri argues, the supposedly unhackable and absolutely transparent blockchain will ensure that no centralized election authority is required to tabulate a vote, and no corrupt politician or gridlocked legislature can interfere with the popular mandate. But coming up with a superior form of voting technology is just the beginning; the larger, far more revolutionary goal is to devise a decentralized decisionmaking process that eliminates the necessity for any kind of central government at all.

“We are not in the business of selling e-voting machines or helping modernize governments with internet voting,” Siri says. “We want to empower people down to the individual level without asking for the permission of governments.”

If the dream of bitcoin, the token generated by Satoshi Nakamoto’s blockchain, was to free money from central bank control, then the dream of Sovereign is to free politics from central government control.

Siri’s complicated, multilayered solution to democratic dysfunction raises a host of questions and paradoxes. There is no shortage of secure-voting-systems experts who believe that radical blockchain democracy could cause more problems than it solves, and is in fact an invitation to gaming and manipulation at odds with the idea of transparent, fraud-free voting.

Still others question how Democracy.Earth plans to solve the gnarliest quandaries faced by any voting system: How does one simultaneously ensure transparency in the voting process while guaranteeing the anonymity of the voter? How can one enfranchise direct voting without running the risk of a feckless tyranny of the majority motivated by short-term passions making terrible decisions?

But nothing raises more eyebrows than the jewel in Democracy.Earth’s crown: the vote token. Because—like bitcoin, like Ether, and like so many of the cryptocurrency tokens sold by blockchain startups in initial coin offerings, known as ICOs, to fund their own operations—the Democracy.Earth vote token has a financial value.

According to Siri, early in 2018 Democracy.Earth raised $1.5 million in a vote-token “presale.” It has plans to mint “a maximum” of 500 million tokens, provisionally priced at 12 cents each, for a company valuation of $60 million. Democracy.Earth employees will be compensated for their labor with tokens. The bottom line: There will be a financial market for the mechanism that Democracy.Earth users employ to vote.

And that’s a headscratcher.

“Ask yourself,” says Joseph Kiniry, CEO of Free & Fair, a company that provides secure election services, “if combining the idea of an ICO and democratic elections sounds fishy or not.”

The Trojan horse that rolled through Buenos Aires in 2013 was designed, like its ancient Greek forebear, to catch the unsuspecting eye. Towed down the streets by a car, 20 feet high and exquisitely carpentered, it caused an immediate sensation. Kids ran alongside. An excited crowd gathered when it came to a halt in front of the Palace of the Argentina National Congress, the political heart of the South American country.

Argentina’s Partido de la Red—Party of the Internet—used a flamboyant Trojan horse to symbolize its entrance into the nation’s politics.

The publicity stunt aimed to spread awareness of an upstart new force in Argentinan politics, the Partido de la Red. “Until then, we were just the guys from Twitter, the nerds, playing politics,” says Siri, a cofounder of the party. “But then everyone was like, ‘What the hell is that?’ People started taking selfies. It became a symbol of the campaign.”

Partido de la Red means “Party of the Net”—as in, the internet. It was founded to represent the interests of an emerging generation of millennial, always-online activists thoroughly dissatisfied with decades of Argentina’s endemic political corruption and spectacular financial crises. Its affiliation with the internet was meant to signal faith in a new kind of collaborative democracy. One of its primary goals was to elect politicians who would commit to uphold decisions made by party members in open, online debates. No more closed-door maneuvering. No more voting according to who delivered the most cash.

“We had one rule,” Siri says. “Obey the internet.”

The Trojan Horse’s symbolism ran deep. Like the original equine that carried hidden Greek warriors into the city of Troy, it represented the idea that the Partido de la Red would sneak its way into the established order and wage war from the inside. But it was also a play on the computer world’s co-optation of the name. This party was a computer virus designed to breach the security of Argentinian politics.

At first, things seemed to be going well. In its first attempt to contest an election, the party captured 1.2 percent of the national vote, considerably better, Siri says, than the 0.2 to 0.3 percent a new party usually gets. “We had a lot of followers online,” Siri says. “It became a movement. We got into the game.”

“And then,” Siri says, “things started to get really strange.”

Provocateurs began showing up at party meetings. Siri’s car tires were slashed. A shadowy character told him that a “donation” of a million pesos to a federal judge would magically solve his party’s registration problems. He discovered that “changing the system from within was not going to happen,” Siri says. “The system was going to change you first.”

So instead of trying to infiltrate the old system, Siri decided to build an entirely new one. He started putting together his blockchain governance platform. In January 2015, he made his way to Mountain View, California, where he had 10 minutes to impress Sam Altman, president of legendary startup incubator Y Combinator.

It wasn’t going well. Siri remembers being “super nervous.” When Altman asked him a question about how many users the fledgling enterprise might eventually have, “I invented a number out of thin air.” The 10-minute window was closing fast.

Then he showed Altman Instagram pictures of the Trojan horse.

“They were like, ‘What!? What did you do!?,’” Siri says with a smile. “They loved us.”

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Hexbyte  Tech News  Wired Radical As Ever, Boots Riley Takes On the Tech Boom

Hexbyte Tech News Wired Radical As Ever, Boots Riley Takes On the Tech Boom

Hexbyte Tech News Wired

When I meet Boots Riley at an art studio in Downtown Oakland, he’s wearing a little bit of everything. On top, a checkered blazer over a cardigan and a white dress shirt open to the fourth button; below, salmon pants and bright white sneakers. His outfit is accented by a pocket square, and by his unruly signature mutton chops and mustache. Trying too hard is frowned upon in Oakland, and Riley was brought up in The Town, so while the first-time filmmaker may be making Hollywood inroads, his mismatched mise-en-scene is pure Bay Area: an overburdened key ring, a wallet straining with business cards and transit passes.

We walk to a café without Wi-Fi and with two distinct styles of iced coffee, a few blocks from what has emerged as the symbol of Oakland’s recent tech-fueled gentrification: a block-sized building that Uber paid $123.5 million for in 2015, only to sell two years later without ever moving in. The virtual wealth infusion altered its surroundings, spurring rent hikes, evictions, and development aplenty. Nearby, three nascent high-rises stretch their naked girders upward, though they may be hard to fill without the promised influx of workers. According to a California Housing Partnership Corporation report, an Oakland resident needs to earn almost $50/hour to afford median rent in the city today. It’s right here, right at this unstable moment, that Riley has set his film, a surrealist comedy about his changing hometown.

Sorry to Bother You, which opens in multiple cities July 6, stars Atlanta’s Lakeith Stanfield as Cassius, a young man who takes a job at a telemarketing firm to help save his uncle’s (Terry Crews) house from being repossessed. He quickly becomes a star at the company after his co-worker, played by a sage-like Danny Glover, teaches him to use his “white voice” to make sales. (Stanfield’s phone voice comes courtesy of David Cross; that of another “power caller” is voiced by Patton Oswalt).

While Cassius rises through the ranks and learns the telemarketing firm’s true purpose, tension comes by way of a union push on the company’s ground floor, spurred by Cassius’s best friend (Jermaine Fowler), his girlfriend, Detroit (Tessa Thompson), and an organizer (Steven Yeun) who arrives with a plan. Cassius is forced to decide between saving his uncle’s home and supporting his fellow workers. Riley knows it’s not a new story—“usually it’s a dance-off to save the house,” he says, grinning—but the rapper/activist’s first feature is clearly a Boots Riley Production: a fast-paced and radical assault on both capitalism and polite society.

Riley was born in Chicago and then his family moved to Detroit for a spell, but Boots arrived in Oakland at the age of six and came to embody the city. His house was always political—his parents met during the San Francisco State student strike in 1968 and his father Walter’s activism infected his son. Boots participated in his first strike, at a cannery in Watsonville, when he was 14. He joined the Progressive Labor Party the next year.

Riley was already a Maoist radical when his rap group the Coup put out their first album, Kill My Landlord, in 1993. That was the same year that Snoop Dogg released Doggystyle, A Tribe Called Quest delivered Midnight Marauders, and Wu-Tang dropped Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). The Coup’s sound matched the time, with Riley’s flow bathed in frenetic funk—references to Ghanian revolutionaries over samples of a late-60s jazz trio. It was accessible revolution; beats, rhymes, and labor strife.

Over the next two decades, The Coup put out five more albums, with ballads about pimps named Jesus and musings on ways to murder high-powered execs. And against all odds, Riley made it: his anti-capitalist rap broke through. Riley never shied away from his newfound platform, speaking out against the war in Iraq, doing regular guest spots on Bill Maher’s Politically Incorrect, and becoming a face of the Occupy movement. He offended the right people—Fox News commentator Michelle Malkin called his song “5 Million Ways to Kill a CEO” un-American—and remained unflinching. And he never left Oakland.

By 2012, Riley, then 41, started shopping a screenplay for a radical comedy about unions, displacement and the insidious effects of capitalism. It was a quixotic pitch, but Riley was used to hustling. As a young musician, he already understood how to press connections and guerilla market—he’d give his tapes to the guys in the neighborhood with the best sound systems in their cars and have them bump it down the block.

He knew his screenplay was like a Coup album on a page: strange and energetic and funny, even as it took on weighty issues. “The Coup’s music is not just like, ‘I’m angry, fuck that, fuck this,’ you know?” Riley says. “I chose to do art in the way I always do it, which is with all the crazy contradictions of life in there.”

In 2014, Riley ran into the author Dave Eggers by his pirate store at 826 Valencia. Riley had spent two years unsuccessfully pitching the screenplay; he asked Eggers if he’d give it a read. Eggers says he was wary at first, because he was a fan of the Coup and didn’t want the awkwardness of disliking Riley’s creation. “But within two pages, I knew Boots had lightning in a bottle,” Eggers says. “It was hilarious, and very brave, and had just enough insanity to be totally relevant to our time.” Eggers published the screenplay as a special issue of his literary magazine, McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern.

I first met Riley right around that time, when I spotted him seated alone at Arbor Café, another crowded and art-centric coffee shop in Oakland. His was an enviable celebrity, anonymous to most. (A woman walked up to say hello during our latest meeting, but quickly revealed that Riley knew her mom and dad.) When I went over to his table, he was warm and asked me what I did for work; when I told him I was a journalist, he quickly and unabashedly brought up his new screenplay. Riley was undamped by the resistance he’d met with—he felt certain that Eggers co-signing the project would give the film momentum. He was right; soon after, Riley received a grant from the San Francisco Film Society and was invited to Sundance’s Screenwriters Lab. In 2016, producers got on board—including Forest Whitaker’s company, Significant Productions—and then things began to change.

Riley was undamped by the resistance he’d met with—he felt certain that Eggers co-signing the project would give the film momentum. He was right.

Nina Yang Bongiovi, who runs Significant alongside Whitaker, immediately started pressing investors and agents hard on Riley’s behalf. The indie studio had made its name by championing another Oakland filmmaker’s first feature: Ryan Coogler’s Sundance-winner Fruitvale Station. Bongiovi and Whitaker had struggled to find funding for that film, with investors admitting that they did not trust a first-time black director. Bongiovi was surprised and annoyed by the response. “I thought, ‘Man, I got Forest Whitaker, everybody’s gonna fund this film!’” she says. “But, no, it doesn’t work that way.”

And though the success of Fruitvale Station bolstered Significant’s track record and made it easier to get their newest film by a first-time black director funded, Bongiovi says they still ran into familiar wariness. And Riley was not just a first-time black director; he was a rapper. He was also an outspoken anti-capitalist who ran a “punk/funk/communist revolution band,” was front-and-center for Occupy and for Palestinian liberation, and had a hit track called “The Guillotine.” A risk-averse industry was nervous about the project, even with Forest Whitaker’s blessing. But eventually, the roles were filled and the funding came through.

Meanwhile, Riley still needed to prepare to shoot his first feature. He had studied film two and a half decades before at San Francisco State, but knew he had to relearn everything. He says he “just went out and snatched mentors” wherever he could find them. Guillermo del Toro told Riley he was too busy but then answered every one of the first-time filmmaker’s emails—eventually, he helped find the effects company for the film. David Gordon Green invited Riley to shadow him as he shot his Amazon show Red Oaks; Eggers connected him with Spike Jonze for a “three-hour master class;” Catherine Hardwicke put him up when he came down to LA.

All the while, Riley read every interview on AFI.com, paid for seminars with Judith Weston and Bruce A. Block, and incessantly watched films, like French director Leos Carax’s Holy Motors and Paul Schrader’s Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters. He was searching for expertise, but also for the ways that masters managed to explore and to play behind the camera. He wanted to tell a radical story that millions of people would buy a ticket to see—just as in his music, he knew the tone would be essential.

Riley’s satire is never wider than in its treatment of WorryFree, the tech giant run by the movie’s big bad: CEO Steve Lift, played by a caftan-wearing Armie Hammer. WorryFree is omnipresent around Riley’s reality-adjacent vision of Oakland—throughout the movie, billboards and news segments and infomercials tout the perks of signing a lifetime contract with the company for what amounts to indentured servitude (Dorm living! Free housing! Three meals a day!).

“This idea of ‘cool capitalism’ is still capitalism. It doesn’t matter if Elon Musk quotes Nas.” —Boots Riley

Hammer, of the Ken Doll looks and multimillion-dollar inherited oil fortune, perfectly embodies the film’s antagonist. His villain is Mark Zuckerberg, only with swagger; Jeff Bezos with fantastic hair. He wears the outfit of the Wokebro, while filling the age-old role of the industrialist. Riley built him as warning against trusting the smiling billionaire who makes you call him by his first name. “This idea of ‘cool capitalism’ is still capitalism,” Riley says. “It doesn’t matter if Elon Musk quotes Nas.”

The satire serves a deeper purpose than cheap laughs. WorryFree reads as cartoonish, but the heart of its villainy—anti-unionism in favor of efficiency, selling regardless of the client’s morality, innovating without weighing the costs—is strikingly recognizable. If this were a dry argument about the threat of Big Tech, the audience would check out. Instead, Riley has slipped his radicalism into a lively, digestible, and a bit devious package. It was a trademark of his music, and he manages to translate it into his first film.

Riley speaks in essays, leaning heavily on history to support his arguments; during a discussion on fighting capitalism from within, he weaves in references to southern Mexican worker uprisings and Serbian filmmakers. He’s not just a student of the movement, though; his earlier career has given him the advantage of a birds’ eye view.

The Coup hit its stride during the era of Pets.com and endless IPOs, and Riley brushed up against the untethered infusion of cash, taking money from a short-lived startup called Niche Music for the group’s 2001 album Party Music (the album’s cover art, prepared in June 2001, infamously featured Riley and Coup DJ Pam the Funkstress blowing up the World Trade Center). The company flew its workers to London to watch the Coup play—it had a full TV studio in its office, though most people had not yet even thought of streaming video online.

“During the first tech boom, I was publicly saying it was bullshit. And I was looked at as crazy,” Riley says. “I think there’s a little bit of bullshitting going on right now too.”

In the six years since the screenplay was written, the public’s view of Silicon Valley has begun to catch up with his. But while Sorry to Bother You’s antagonist may be Hammer’s Lift, Riley is less concerned with villains than systems. “Steve Lift could be Henry Ford,” Riley says. “The tech world is not a new phenomenon; it’s a new era.”

And that new era has brought with it dystopian fallout usually reserved for satire. When Riley conceived of his script in 2012, he wrote in establishing shots of tent cities as Cassius drives to his first day of work. Initially, he’d imagined the construction of the homeless encampments as a cost, but the ones in the film were all too easy to find in Oakland in 2017. Bongiovi was shocked to return to Oakland five years after Fruitvale Station; the city felt unrecognizable from the one she’d seen beside Coogler.

But while the foregrounded action is distorted to the point of farce, the satire never tips over the edge—largely because Riley’s characters feel so lived-in. Steve Yuen’s Squeeze is part Boots, part a local labor activist he knows; Cassius is Riley without exposure to movement work as a kid. Most impressively, Tessa Thompson’s Detroit, who steals every scene she’s in, reads as three-dimensional, instead of being flattened into an eccentric muse. “I wrote all the characters as if they were me,” Riley says. “It was like playing chess with myself.”

The board he plays his characters upon is not large—in the movie, Cassius’s uncle’s house is just five miles from the luxury apartment he moves into, and a different five miles from Lift’s mansion in the hills. Housing and labor are front and center in Sorry to Bother You, because that’s the story of the Bay Area in 2018. But this is an Oakland film, fully recognizable and full of contradictions. San Francisco never even comes up.


I’m in the Central Valley when my cell phone finally rings. I pull off Highway 5 a bit past Lost Hills, California, beside some piles of sand and stray trash, and four dead fish, uncooked and partly eaten. I’m 90 miles from the ocean, and it’s 95 degrees and dry—the scene is incongruous in a way that seems fitting. I pick up and Danny Glover, who participated in the 1968 San Francisco State strike alongside Boots’ parents, is on the line.

Glover has spent most of his 71 years in San Francisco and has an even clearer view of the changing region than Riley. He lived through the forced migration of black San Franciscans from the city’s Fillmore District via urban renewal a half-century ago. He saw the manic development and investment of the first tech boom and the subsequent crash. And yet, for him, this last decade still feels strange, if familiar. He’s struck by the alienating effects of innovation—by what he flatly calls “the absurdity of it all.”

Glover’s pride in Boots rings through, even with shoddy reception on the side of the road. He’s watched his friend’s son become a prominent activist, and closely tracked his music industry rise. And Glover’s seen Riley stay radical, just like him, the film industry staple who managed to be both Roger Murtaugh and the one who called George W. Bush racist well before Kanye West. When Glover first read Riley’s script, it took him a moment to process it. But as he let it marinate, and then especially after seeing the finished film, Glover began to believe that Riley had written a classic. “This is a script that goes beyond,” he says. “Like Catch-22, you know, or Sweet Sweetback, Marvin van Peebles. They’re gonna be talking about this script.”

Sorry to Bother You premiered at Sundance to rave reviews and was bought by Annapurna, the production house behind The Master and Her, for seven figures. The company committed to a wide release and has put real promotional dollars behind the subversive comedy. Riley tells me he took a BoltBus from Oakland to LA for his first meeting with Stanfield—for an influential distributor to purchase his film wasn’t just validating, it was life-altering. “That punk approach of ‘We don’t wanna get big’ is really a bourgeois thing,” Riley says. “It’s not a tactic of people that actually have been successful at changing things.”

But I ask Riley if he was at all wary to take money from Annapurna founder Megan Ellison, whose father, Oracle founder Larry Ellison, is the fifth richest person in the US and a major Republican donor. Left-leaning capital has always provided an economic motor for radical movements, he tells me. He respects the hell out of Megan Ellison for using her money to support leftist art, he tells me. But before he says either of those things, he adjusts his afro and tells me with a grin, “Even Marx sold books.”


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