Afro-surrealism has been on Hollywood’s radar for some time now. From Donald Glover’s groundbreaking series “Atlanta” to Terrence Nance’s thought-provoking “Random Acts of Flyness” and Jordan Peele’s critically acclaimed films “Get Out” and “Nope,” this formerly niche genre continues to flourish in mainstream entertainment. Is.
Writer, producer and composer Boots Riley, whose 2018 film “Sorry to Bother You” catapulted him to fame as a filmmaker, is back with his latest project on Prime Video: “I’m a Virgo”. This highly anticipated series solidifies his position among the pioneers of the Afro-Surrealist genre.
Afrofuturism and Afro-surrealism, often seen as interchangeable, are distinct. Where Afrofuturism blends the art, science and music of the African Diaspora to speculate about the future, afro-surrealism is about Now, Why romanticize a dystopian future when so many working-class black and brown people currently live in oppressive places?
Executive produced by Riley and Tze Chun (“Gremlins: Secrets of the Mogwai”), “I’m a Virgo” at first appears to be an absurdist comedy about a teen giant coming of age in an alternate reality in Oakland, California. The series stars Emmy-award winning actor Jharrel Jerome (“When They See Us”, “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse”) as Cooty, a 13-foot-tall 19-year-old boy who is taken hostage After the guardianship of most of their lives they set out to see the world for the first time.
Cootie, who grew up on a regular diet of commercials, comics and pop culture, strangely finds friends, jobs and even love. As the gentle giant stumbles through this ever-expanding universe, he realizes that the outside world is much more sinister than it appears. But don’t let the heavy-handed themes fool you, “I’m a Virgo” is a comedy filled with absolutely thrilling moments.
This is one of the best shows you will watch this summer.
When we first meet Kooti as a newborn, the size of a 12-year-old, as his Aunt Lafrancine, (Carmen Ejogo), struggles to get him out of the hospital. We see the Lafrancins and her husband Martis (Omar Epps) raise Cootie in the best possible way through montages. Martis is constantly repairing the walls and doors as Cooty is breaking them down, unaware of his size or strength. And when Vishal hits his growth spurt, the couple build a separate house for him in the backyard. Eventually his curiosity reaches beyond the canopy-covered area and he meets his friends Felix (Brett Grey), Jones (Kara Young), and Scat (Elias Barnes) – who take him on a joy ride and lead him to the Show the world he’s missing out.
Although rumors of a mysterious giant make the evening news, no one in the neighborhood (apart from Cooty’s parents) seems concerned, possibly because a real giant isn’t the only oddity in Auckland. His neighbor’s house is on mechanical pillars which sometimes rise almost ten storeys high. Flora (Olivia Washington), a local burger joint employee, shifts between dimensions when she is distracted. Jones, her party activist, can mentally “push” her agenda into other people’s consciousness like a Marxist. Emma Frost,
However, Kooty attracts Hero’s attention. He’s comically played by Walter Goggins, who chews up scenes as a narcissistic vigilante in a jet pack. By day, the hero is Jay Whittle, a billionaire comic book creator and tech guru whose ego is so large that he keeps moving around his multistory office building in San Francisco. His Instead of bothering to take the lift. At night, he flies around Oakland, as a character he created, “policing” the citizens and publishing stories of his exploits for profit.
If this all sounds blatantly political, you’d be right. The whole purpose of Afro-Surrealism is to reveal the structures that perpetuate social norms in order to tear them down.
Raised by activists in Oakland, producer Boots Riley is also a musician, rapper, and self-proclaimed communist who, like most creators, incorporates his experiences into his art. From the soundtrack, which features Oakland musician tune-yards, Jones’ social justice event, and The Hero’s promotional comics, Riley’s DNA emanates from all of the characters in “I’m a Virgo”. And there are many of them.
The show has almost as many cameos as political statements. Elijah Wood appears as a humble executioner in training, and Danny Glover voices an animated meteorologist boasting about survival. Even Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek poses as a talking demon child.
And the show should be rewarded for just bringing TV veteran Morgan Fairchild out of retirement.
Distortion and obscurity of reality are common features of Afro-Surrealism, but Riley works it through movement and motion. Right before things get too visually horrifying, we head to the car ride, the comic book store, or just a window to take our stand before it freaks us out again .
Riley is apparently also a fan of Japanese anime and Western animation. A melody from “Akira” underlies Flora’s musical cues when she uses her powers. Sad images reminiscent of Satoshi Kon’s “Paprika” appear throughout the episode. Even the hero’s suit looks like it’s from an episode of “Ultraman”. The in-world show “Parking Tickets”, which appears on various screens throughout the series, is a bizarre mashup of “Rick and Morty” and “Family Guy”.
Outstanding performances from the lead cast keep the seven-episode series from derailing. Jerome is incredible, demonstrating innocence and strength as Cootie’s concept of the universe is slowly being eroded away. Washington is interesting as Flora, whose character exists simultaneously in parallel dimensions, actively slowing herself down to listen.
Of course, they are both metaphors, Cootie, a large black boy, who is considered a monster in the outside world; and Flora, the strange black girl who changes her true form in order to be acceptable. Her extremely awkward relationship with Cooty is one of the most important aspects of the show. Riley could easily make another series about this pairing, or any of the characters featured in this series. Hopefully we get a season 2 of the adventures of the whole oddball team.
Riley’s “I’m a Virgo” message may be muddled, but it shines a light on issues like police brutality, health care disparities, unfair pay, and capitalism’s inherent shortcomings in protecting the working class. However, what draws you to this show isn’t just its political commentary or mind-bending imagery. Rather, it’s Cootie’s innocent positivity, his friends’ genuine acceptance, and a clear realization that few aspects of our world are far more terrifying than a giant, 13-foot-tall black man.
“I’m A Virgino” premieres Friday, June 23 on Prime Video.