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Making The Art for ‘Sorry To Bother You’, and Yes, It Involves Horses

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If you live in the Bay, you know as well as I do that the Oakland art scene is dope.  Oakland is famously creative, diverse and hungry, it’s got a rebel soul, a musical heart, and activist arms.  Last summer, following the incredible success of Black Panther directed by Oakland Native Ryan Coogler) two new Oakland Directors burst onto the scene with their own Oakland inspired films.  Director Carlos Lopez Estrada just debuted “Blindspotting” starring Oakland actors Daveed Diggs & Rafael Casal who co-wrote the film about police violence and gentrification.  The Bay Area beloved Boots Riley created Sorry to Bother You, a satirical, artistic and at times hilariously mind-bending ride through American racism, exploitation, protest, and capitalism. Both films were shot on the streets of Oakland, both were widely praised by critics far and wide.

We’ve been wanting to interview peeps who worked on the film so when we heard Spy Emerson of the Hook-Up Truck built art and performed in the film, we were stoked to hear about her experience.  Spy got to work as an artist on Sorry to Bother You, creating set designs and acting in the movie alongside a bunch of other rad Oakland artists.  We asked her what it was like working on the film and about all the great art that went into it.

(BAS) What was it like making a movie on the streets of Oakland last summer?
(Spy Emerson) Oh so exciting!! Oakland is poppin!!

How do you describe Sorry to Bother You without spoilers?
It’s a story about a guy who gets a job at a telemarketing company. The big picture is about corporate greed, worker unions, social injustice and rebellion. Boots uses magic realism, and a little bit of science fiction to set the story in our current Oakland, but just, like, a different dimension. It’s totally relatable and outrageous at the same time.

What were your projects on the film?

I did a few things on the film, I played a member of the all-female rebellion group called “Left Eye”, and I made the sculpture that the group leaves on the street in protest. The sculpture was a 12′ man buggering a horse, and yes, Boots called me and said “you’re the only person I can think of to do this” and of course I was absolutely charmed by that notion. It’s an honor to be thought of as an artist that stands out doing giant and impossibly weird things.

Boots called me and said “you’re the only person I can think of to do this”

I’m 5’1″ tall and I agreed to build this 12’x15′ MAN FUCKING A HORSE out of paper mache and install it in downtown Oakland during morning rush hour traffic. It had to be moveable, installed quickly, stand securely and not fall over… and it had to look good. It was a piece of protest art, crude and simple with a strong message. Boots said it should be paper mache, and look to be made in one night by Left Eye. In reality, it had a steel base structure and took me 75 hours to create. I accentuated the humor of the subject with bulging eyes, a giant grabbing hand, the other holding the horse’s tail (cringe).

Spy & Director Boots Riley on set with the statue in Oakland, CA

Now the question the people want to know: Did you get to make the horse cocks? And if not WHO DID GIRL?
It’s SO funny, when Boots called me to ask about making the sculpture, he stressed multiple times that there could be no penis shaft or scrotum showing on the man or the beast. The film was at maximum cocks allowed in a film and there could be no more. I was then warned again by the incredible Jason Kisvarday Art Director, no visible penis please! So, when we built the structure in two pieces, man and horse, they were actually connected by the man’s member, just not visibly!! Evan Tracy who helped me with the metal work did that lil brilliance. So, no, I did not make the horse cocks. I was explicitly disallowed cock making, and I don’t know who did.

Spy’s Journey on the Project:

Who made Tessa Thompson’s (Detroit’s) earrings? (because everyone wants a pair including me)
The earrings are detailed in the original screenplay by Boots, but the font, the look, was created by J. Otto Seibold who did all the fonts and type graphics throughout the film. The earrings are so strong a symbol in the reading of his story, and have been transformed beautifully for the film. I love J. Otto’s graphic style, he is another Bay Area artist treasure.

You can actually buy these earings via the movie’s site!

Who were the other Bay Area artists involved in Sorry to bother you with you?
In Left Eye there were some great ladies I got to work with including Silk E who is the fantastic female singer in the Coup. There were so many great artists that came out, so many great people in general. The day of the riot scene filming, there were so many people in the streets laughing together and hanging out. I met activists and musicians and poets all loving Boots and his vision.

What was it like working with Boots Riley? We had him on the Broke-Ass Stuart’s Kinda Late show and he was a cool guest, he talked revolution, staying woke, and helping humanity, then he grabbed the mic and did a song with Gabby Lala that brought the house down. How musical was it on set?

Boots is amazing, everyone loves him so much because he is so real. His commitment to his work is admirable, he never stops, and his work benefits people at large, so he’s a leader. On the set, he was focused and dialed in. There wasn’t music on the set because there wasn’t anything but exactly what he was directing to happen, no distractions.

Spy is now making figurines of statue from the movie, if you want to see more of Spy’s art checkout her Instagram @spy.emerson

What’s hot in the Oakland art scene right now?

Me, I’m hot. I just finished a six month run of my stage performance Happy Forever: Pagan Matchmaker and that was out of this world fun!! Now I got these Man Fucking Horse sculptures for sale, Hook-Up Truck at Folsom Street Fair in September, and a few other things in the works. Join me on Patreon or on Instagram for the next adventure, coming soon.

Rapper/activist Boots Riley, left, on set with the horse sculpture on “Sorry to Bother You” in Oakland. photo Angela Hill

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Alex Mak - Managing Editor

Alex Mak - Managing Editor

I'm the managing editor here at Broke-Ass Stuart. I enjoy covering Bay Area News as well as writing about Arts, Culture & Nightlife.

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