Musician, filmmaker, and wearer of (many) hats Boots Riley has a new series streaming on Amazon Prime Video, called I’m a Virgo. It’s as bizarre, serious, and original as his breakout feature, 2018’s Sorry to Bother You, a workplace comedy set in a telemarketing office that unfurls as a scathing satire of life under late capitalism. I’m a Virgo is also an Oakland-based absurdist comedy about the urgent need to redistribute wealth, though it begins as a strange, sweet coming-of-age tale about a 13-foot-tall Black man named Cootie, played by Jharrel Jerome. Having been raised in hiding by his protective aunt and uncle, Cootie stumbles, in the series’s opening, into a world of drugs, sex, and radical politics with a ragtag crew of youngsters, navigating an urban labyrinth that is only slightly more dystopian than reality. Riley draws on a variety of sources, from comic books and superhero movies to TV commercials and socialist propaganda, for a tale that is as much a furious critique of the failures of capitalism as it is a rollicking joyride. (There’s also a cameo from Slavoj Žižek.) 

Riley joined us for a wide-ranging conversation that touched on the CIA’s funding of abstract expressionism, the history of the Communist Party of the USA, the Writers Guild of America strike, and the challenge of making politically engaged art in an industry dominated by corporations.

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