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Art & Culture

Boots Riley’s Visionary Miniseries “I’m a Virgo” Transforms Oakland’s Film Scene

  • Craig Miller
  • |
  • June 12, 2023
  • |
  • 3 minute read
  • |
Boots Riley’s Visionary Miniseries “I’m a Virgo” Transforms Oakland’s Film Scene
Key Takeaways
  • Boots Riley, former frontman for Oakland hip hop group The Coup, reinvented himself in the film industry and gained fame with his satirical take on the workplace in "Sorry to Bother You" before releasing the Amazon miniseries "I'm a Virgo."
  • Riley brings a distinctive vision to his work, characterized by a blend of magical realism and social commentary, and uses practical effects to create a visually compelling world.
  • Despite the temptation to move to the center of the film industry, Riley has remained committed to Oakland, filming much of "I'm a Virgo" in the city and co-founding Cinemama to create a screening and event space for local filmmakers.
  • While working with Amazon might seem at odds with Riley's activism, he sees an opportunity to convey an anti-capitalist message within a corporate context and encourages filmmakers to create human characters with realistic desires and motivations.
  • Riley maintains a disciplined work ethic, waking up at 5:30 AM every day and writing for four uninterrupted hours, allowing him to develop multiple scripts and secure financing and cast for two additional feature films.
  • Riley's dedication to his community, unique artistic vision, and disciplined work ethic have made him a force to be reckoned with in the film industry, challenging Hollywood norms and transforming Oakland's film scene.

 

After rising to fame as the frontman for Oakland’s legendary hip hop group The Coup, Boots Riley reinvented himself in the film industry.

He first made a splash with his 2018 Sundance breakout “Sorry to Bother You,” a satirical take on the workplace that showcased his socialist values and desire to empower the working class. 

His latest project, the Amazon miniseries “I’m a Virgo,” tells the story of a 13-foot-tall teenager (Jharrel Jerome) who escapes his insular household to engage with local activism.

A Unique Approach to Filmmaking

Riley brings a distinctive vision to his work, characterized by a blend of magical realism and social commentary.

For “I’m a Virgo,” he chose to use practical effects, such as forced perspective and puppets, to create a visually compelling world.

The series is both hilarious and tragic, reflecting Riley’s unique sensibilities and dedication to telling human stories.

Staying True to Oakland Roots

Despite the temptation to move to the center of the film industry, Riley has remained committed to Oakland.

He believes that being grounded in his community makes him a better artist and allows him to create more authentic work.

As a result, much of “I’m a Virgo” was filmed in Oakland, with only some interiors shot in New Orleans.

Riley asserts that his familiarity with Oakland gives his work a distinct sense of place, similar to New York filmmakers like Noah Baumbach, Jim Jarmusch, and Woody Allen.

Investing in the Local Film Scene

Recognizing the lack of a central hub for Oakland’s filmmaking community, Riley co-founded Cinemama, a local non-profit organization dedicated to creating a screening and event space. 

Alongside fellow filmmakers such as Cheryl Dunye and George Rush, Riley hopes to foster a vibrant film scene in the Bay Area, where filmmakers can gather and collaborate.

Boots Riley’s dedication to his community, unique artistic vision, and disciplined work ethic have made him a force to be reckoned with in the film industry.

Balancing Corporate Resources and Personal Values

While working with Amazon might seem at odds with Riley’s activism, he sees an opportunity to convey an anti-capitalist message within a corporate context.

By making a show for Amazon, Riley hopes to encourage people to organize and demand better working conditions, even within the corporation itself.

Encouraging Authenticity and Creativity

Riley is concerned about the tendency for newer filmmakers to self-censor, especially regarding the representation of human sexuality.

Drawing inspiration from “Nashville” writer Joan Tewkesbury, he urges filmmakers to create human characters with realistic desires and motivations, challenging audiences to think beyond a PG-13 lens.

Developing a Consistent Routine

Despite facing financial struggles, Riley has maintained a disciplined approach to his work. He wakes up at 5:30 AM every day and writes for four uninterrupted hours, focusing on projects other than his current one.

This routine has allowed him to develop multiple scripts, securing financing and cast for two additional feature films.

Boots Riley’s dedication to his community, unique artistic vision, and disciplined work ethic have made him a force to be reckoned with in the film industry.

With “I’m a Virgo,” he showcases his talent and passion for storytelling while transforming Oakland’s film scene and challenging Hollywood norms.

Craig Miller

Craig Miller

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