From Bill Cosby voiced AI programs to low rider miniature film sets, this new Amazon series I’m a Virgo is a satirical thrill ride. On its face, it delivers an absurdist portrayal of black masculinity, the carceral state, and ultimately the beauty and naivety of growing adolescents. Directed by Boots Riley, following up his Sorry to Bother You (2018) project, this is Riley’s second major studio hit streaming now on Amazon Prime. With the help of director of photography Steven Annis and Eric Moynier, Riley creates visual surrealism that encapsulates a dystopian Oakland, California backdrop, while staying sensitive to a character worthy of ginormous accommodations.
In the series, Riley offers fresh commentary on the anxieties of raising a Black son to live in a world who both misunderstands him and is also intrigued by his presence. Leading him to live a life both as an unique outsider and sometimes a threatening spectacle.
As we follow protagonist “Cootie” played by Jharrel Jerome, the audience gets an inside look at the struggles of a 19-year-old Black giant who, despite his size, has been hiding his entire life from the world. As Cootie discovers life “over the hedge,” and the delight of Bing Bang Burgers, his reliance on his book smarts and restrictive idioms are deemed ineffectual for the life that he longs to live on the outside. He quickly learns that the mental prison designed to keep him “safe” and at home, with his strict parents, is ACTUALLY keeping him trapped off from experiencing the real world as a man, and more importantly an adventurous Virgo.
Cooties adopted parents, played by comedian Mike Epps as “Martisse” and Carmen Ejajo as “LaFrancine”, showcase Black intergenerational pathologies and the standing socio-political conflict between Black Gen Z youth and their Baby Boomer/ Gen X parents as it relates to their slightly antiquated worldview. With their more traditional and seemingly “working class” revolutionary values, Martisse and LaFrancine, while loving, have grown both callous and indifferent to the world around them. While they hope to build a better life for their “special” son, they ultimately can’t change the way the world will perceive him Causing fear to be the anchor for Cootie’s warped sense of self and the world around him. We later learn that this was a part of a larger plan that was the catalyst needed to set off a revolution.
I’m A Virgo exposes the harsh realities of an outside world that is violent, oppressive, and afraid of Black men, especially giant Black men, often portrayed as brutes in the media. This series delivers a poignant message about the importance of interpersonal exploration, friends, love, Black joy, and a life affirming humanity that can be found even in the face of a giant like Cootie. Who is simply navigating his own coming of age while fumbling romances, trying weed and alcohol for the first time, and even exploring his own sexuality. Despite the juxtaposed identity that Cootie is struggling with, he is embraced by his carefree neighbors and new crew of friends as a hero, ‘ but to the world he is deemed a villain. His new friends include Felix, comedically played by Brett Gray, his love interest Flora played by Olivia Washington, and his two other mates played by Allius Barnes as Scat and Kara Young as Jones .
While his friends are more accepting and view Cootie as just “special”, affectionately referring to him as “Twat Man”, his opportunistic agent Sam Spiegel sees only dollar signs. Exploitation and the absurdist reality of becoming “the spectacle” as opposed to seeing or creating a spectacle encourages Cootie to become a live mannequin model for a questionable streetwear brand. This very interesting topic of objectification is covered by Riley, just as social media influencers and celebrities are subjected to intense parasocial relationships with their fans. Similar to, “Ni’jah” played by Chole Bailey and Nirine S. Brown, in Donald Glover’s Emmy Nominated series SWARM(2023) , also produced by Amazon Studios. Throughout the series, Cooties is even being followed around by a small cult, who is convinced that he is the messiah returned.
In addition, the story soundtrack is unmatched, taking the audience on a ride through the west coast, highlighting Kendrick, Snoop Dog, YG, E-40 and many more. From a visual perspective, this is an absolutely astonishing and creative adaptation on miniatures, puppeteering, japanese animation, and the quirky directing styles that we loved in “Sorry to Bother You”. Riley’s track record as an experimental, absurd, and afro-surrealist director continues to raise the bar for the Black fiction genre as a whole.
One of the most creative and noteworthy cinematic executions of romance I’ve seen in a while was in Episode 3 “Paco Rabanne” where Cootie and Flora are on a date and finally see the backstory of Flora, a child with “CCS,” Continuous Convulsion Syndrome. We see the world through the eyes of Flora struggling to adapt to people who see her moving too fast when the world is really just moving too slow. While Washington is certainly no newcomer to Hollywood, her take on “Flora ” is refreshing and unique. Flora, playing opposite to Cootie, truly carries their storyline delving into the challenges of growing up as a Black girl with special abilities and finding love with someone who can keep things interesting and special.
The entire romantic arc between Cootie and Flora showcases this fictionalized version of Black teenage romance, in a cheeky yet eclectic way that only Riley could encapsulate in a series.The choice to make these two ”outcast” the love interest of one another just highlights the brilliance of the script and amazing character development that only grows from episode to episode.
Overall this series is a fun watch and comes highly recommended with your favorite beverage, substance, or snack. For more Black entertainment news, reviews, and production resources sign up for The Reel Effect newsletter!
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