Boots Riley has a lot of influences, but there’s one that really shines through in Sorry to Bother You. The new movie borrows liberally from Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Mood Indigo, Be Kind Rewind) in its visual representation of an increasingly surreal near-future Oakland. There’s even a not-so-subtle reference to Gondry near the end of the story when his slightly altered name (“Michel Dongry”) shows up as the director of a stop-motion short that exists within the actual film, but it turns out that Easter egg was almost even less subtle.
In an interview, Boots Riley tells Inverse how the Michel Gondry reference came to be, what it was like showing his movie to a director he clearly admires, and the unexpected connection between Sorry to Bother You and Star Wars.
Originally, that in-film credit simply read “Michel Gondry,” which Riley explains is totally legal thanks to the “loophole of parody.” Even so, the director eventually decided to change the last name slightly to avoid insulting one of his biggest influences.
“I didn’t want him to hear about it and think I was dissing him and also I wanted to meet Michel Gondry,” Riley says. “So I was able to organize it so that I could go and show him parts of the movie and explain to him what it was so he knew it was a shoutout and not a diss.”
When the two directors did meet, not only did Gondry get to watch an early cut of Sorry to Bother You, he also pulled out a bit of unspoken plot that you might not catch when you see the film in theaters. Here’s how the conversation went down, according to Riley.
Michel Gondry: “So let me understand this. The richest man in the world he can have anyone make this film and he chooses me, right?”
Boots Riley: “Yeah”
Gondry: “I like that.”
Despite his name (or something very close to it) appearing in Sorry to Bother You, Gondry didn’t actually direct that film within a film. But the story of who did is just as interesting.
“That part is directed by Ri Crawford,” Riley says. “Great guy out of Oakland who also works for Tippett Studios who famously did the stop-motion stuff for Star Wars.”
As for what actually happens in that Michel Dongry-directed film within a film, revealing even the smallest detail would give away a big part of what makes Sorry to Bother You so great. To find out, you’ll have to see the movie for yourself, and, as the real Michel Gondry would probably say, it’s definitely worth watching.
Sorry to Bother You is currently playing in select theaters with a wide release set for July 13.