“I’m A Virgo” is a Hugely Entertaining Satire of American Capitalism
How would being a 13-foot-tall giant change your perspective on life? Boots Riley (“Sorry to Bother You”) masterfully uses his quirky new series “I’m A Virgo” to provide a “larger than life” coming-of-age masterpiece that explores racism and capitalism unlike anything you’ve ever seen.
Meet Cootie (Jharrell Jerome “Moonlight,” “When They See Us”), a literal giant living secretly in Oakland, California. He has been kept from the outside world since birth by his parental figures, Martisse (Mike Epps “Sparkle”) and LaFrancine (Carmen Ejogo “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald”), in hopes of protecting him. They preach the importance of maintaining a healthy mind, body, and spirit to prepare him for being feared and misunderstood by the world.
His parents teach him that giants, though rare, aren’t actually a new phenomenon. Matisse and LaFrancine fearfully show Cootie stories of how those before him were vilified and outcast. They further explain how being a black man in America makes you ripe for racial profiling, unlawful incarceration and exploitation.
Most of what he knows is from lessons from his parents, the books he reads, and television shows he watches in the security of his home, but when he ventures beyond the backyard, he begins to understand how being a giant and a black man influence how others treat him.
When Cootie is welcomed into a new group of friends, his understanding of people begins to change. Jones (Kara Young “The Punisher”) is a queer revolutionary and storyteller with a demanding presence. Felix (Brett Gray “On My Block”) is helpful, funny, and loyal, while Scat (Allius Barnes “Cruel Summer”) is a cartoon-and-comic-book-loving carefree soul. They share their wisdom and show him how to appreciate the small joys in life, like eating trashy cheeseburgers, dancing in nightclubs, and watching mindless cartoons. We even get to humorously witness the friends joyride “Tokyo Drift” style, while Cootie is so large that he makes the car look like a toy.
Cootie also meets and falls for Flora (Olivia Washington “Breaking”), who has the ability to move at superhuman speed. When they meet, she disappears into a blur as she quickly makes orders of burgers and fries at her job. She isn’t intimidated by his size and encourages him to be his authentic self with her. They bond over the isolation and loneliness they’ve felt for being different, and develop feelings of care and compassion for each other. And if you’re wondering, yes, there is a hilarious scene where we witness them “get closer” that will leave your jaw on the floor. But their budding relationship helps Cootie understand what it means to build intimacy with another person.
Despite these moments of happiness, Cootie cannot avoid persecution and humiliation. Cootie’s size is taken advantage, including being used as a literal monster for a fashion campaign.
News outlets call him a “thug” after footage of him taken out of context goes viral, and police officers anticipate arresting him, though he has committed no crime.
One of the main themes at play are the harmful implications of capitalism. Riley uses symbolism throughout the series to show how greed has negatively impacted basic needs like food, housing and healthcare.
One of the first places Cootie wants to visit when he leaves the security of his home is “Bing-Bang Burger,” a popular fast food chain that acts as a prominent source of nourishment for the predominantly black neighborhood, but which his parents have tried to protect him from. Riley subtly is making a commentary with “Bing-Bang Burger” by never showing a single grocery store or the characters eating fresh produce, which speaks to how in black neighborhoods in cities like Oakland experience “food deserts” or areas lacking access to quality healthy foods.
“I’m A Virgo” illustrates how income inequality and discriminatory housing policies and gentrification disproportionately affect black people. Cootie’s friend, Jones, organizes the community to try to save the residents of a local apartment building from unlawful eviction. In another instance, black residents of the “Lower Bottom” neighborhood are literally scaled to microscopic proportions in an effort to seize their land for development. The resizing acts as a metaphor for how those victimized by displacement are made to feel small, insignificant and invisible.
During one of the most impactful moments of the series, Cootie and his friends experience a significant loss due to negligence at a local hospital. Access to quality healthcare depends on who can afford it. This chilling moment and what follows become a turning point for Cootie to understand the unjust and immoral ways black people are deemed valueless and disposable in society.
Perhaps the strongest criticism of capitalism comes in the form of “The Hero” (Walton Goggins), the troubled billionaire who self-righteously patrols Oakland in a flying suit and vows to build a prison large enough to contain Cootie.
Jay Widow, otherwise known as “The Hero,” is the writer and subject of a series of comic books that Cootie read while in hiding. In the comics, Widow depicts himself as a messenger for “justice” who hands out retribution to criminals for wrongdoing.
However, beneath the futuristic armor lies a troubled soul who so desperately wants to live out the pages of the fictional world he created. “The Hero” is encouraged and aided by predominantly white local law enforcement to terrorize, assault, and arrest citizens in overwhelmingly black neighborhoods.
Draped in all white and shielded by immense wealth and privilege, “The Hero” is a symbol of white supremacy and its role in maintaining and supporting institutional racism. He embodies how intertwined white supremacy is with the capitalist exploitation of black and brown people for profit through mass incarceration. After he deems “Cootie” his nemesis, they have a final showdown that fiercely challenges Widow’s beliefs.
“I’m A Virgo” places viewers in the massive shoes of its unusual protagonist to reexamine race and class through an absurd satirical lens, daring viewers to challenge what is clearly a broken system.
“I’m A Virgo” is currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video.