Boots Riley’s new coming-of-age series combines entertainment with sophisticated politics and should be on every socialist’s watchlist, argues Lucy Nichols

Boots Riley’s newest project, I’m a Virgo, is phenomenal. This wonderful coming-of-age series introduces us to Cootie (Jharrel Jerome), a thirteen-foot-tall boy who grows up completely sheltered by the aunt and uncle who raised him. Eventually, at nineteen years old, Cootie ventures outside for the first time with new friends Felix (Brett Gray), Jones (Kara Young), and Scat (Allius Barnes).

For the first time, Cootie must navigate friendship, love, fast food, and life as an outsider. He initially struggles to relate to those around him, but is eventually embraced by all, despite being so dramatically different. Olivia Washington is magnificent as Flora, Cootie’s quiet but very sweet love interest. Like Cootie, she is an outsider, though is able to mask this from everyone around her. This aspect of the series is more traditional to the coming-of-age genre, a relatable narrative of two young people navigating a new relationship.

Set in Oakland, the series is seven episodes long, each episode wackier than the last. Riley embraces the absurd and lays bare the issues faced by the working class in Oakland, sometimes very overtly, and sometimes through the use of slightly more subtle metaphor. Cootie’s incredibly endearing coming-of-age story is turned on its head when tragedy strikes, and his community must spring into action. Everything Cootie thought to be true about the establishment and his relationship to it is thrown into question. The vigilante ‘superhero’ (Walton Goggins) he previously idolised becomes his greatest adversary, dead set on squashing any kind of anti-racist mobilisation that takes place.

I’m a Virgo balances the virtues of mass mobilisation up against direct action, and socialist organising tactics against more anarchist ideas. Conflict arises between the two sides as it becomes more necessary to take action against the oppressive power company that deliberately plunges Oakland’s poorer neighbourhoods into darkness at random times. At its core, I’m a Virgo is deeply political, with all the right politics in all the right places.

Kara Young is magnificent as Jones, a communist and rent-strike organiser who fights to organise her community into one that fights back against evictions, racism and state violence. Brett Gray plays Felix, who becomes increasingly alienated as the series goes on, unable to find his place in the movement. Cootie is the enthusiastic newcomer who has larger-than-life ideas, but falls short when it comes to realising them. Cootie’s aunt Lafrancine (Carmine Ejogo) is desperate to take direct action, whatever the consequences.

I’m a Virgo is a triumph, not least because Boots Riley worked incredibly hard to comply with the ongoing WGA and SAG strikes as the series was released on Amazon Prime. The director is a committed socialist and this certainly comes through in I’m a Virgo. Everything about the show is magnificent, and it should be on every socialist’s watchlist.

I’m A Virgo is available to watch on Amazon Prime

From Counterfire freesheet August 2023

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