This article contains spoilers for all seven episodes of I’m a Virgo.
There’s a lot going on in I’m a Virgo, Boots Riley’s seven-episode series on Prime Video. The mere premise of the show itself – that of a 13-foot tall young Black man from Oakland finding himself – is a lot to unpack. And that’s before the Sorry to Bother You filmmaker begins to introduce other elements of magical realism.
Cootie’s (Jharrel Jerome) journey to self discovery features: a cult cartoon called Parking Tickets that has the potential to drive people insane, a billionaire comic book writer who becomes his own fascist creation called The Hero (Walton Goggins), and of course: plenty of revolutionary labor politics.
All of those disparate threads come to a head in the I’m a Virgo finale in which Cootie and friends have sabotaged a power facility in a fruitless attempt at class solidarity and The Hero identifies the giant (known alternatively as the Thwamp Monster or Thug) as his best chance to develop a worthy archenemy. Things aren’t looking too hot for Cootie as The Hero and all his sophisticated technology straight up beat the young man’s ass on the streets of Oakland. With no better options, our young Virgo turns to his friend Jones (Kara Young) to use her special talent to stop The Hero in his tracks.
At this point, we should probably explain that Cootie isn’t the only remarkable young person in I’m a Virgo‘s canon. Just as he possesses the helpful anomaly of giganticism so too do some of his peers have useful abilities. A whole neighborhood of Oakland-ites have been shrunk down to a size perfect for spycraft, Cootie’s girlfriend Flora (Olivia Washington) has superspeed, and his friend Felix is the “homey with a car.” But it’s Jones who ultimately has the most impressive power.
Jones is an orator so skilled that when she speaks publicly, the world quite literally comes to a stop. Reality gives way to a black box theater-like soundstage and along with the help of some mystical faceless actors, Jones puts on little plays to explain complex ideas like the inherently exploitative nature of capitalism. Cootie was seemingly Jones’s only peer to take note of this ability back when she used it to inspire a general strike following their the death of their friend Scat (Allius Barnes) and he needs her to use it on The Hero.
So use it she does and what follows is I’m a Virgo‘s most visually inventive passage that is also serves as a tremendously helpful crash course on anti-capitalistism. The clip hasn’t made its way online yet (probably because Prime Video doesn’t want to spoil the ending and also because Amazon doesn’t want it easily circulating inside their warehouses) so go ahead and fire up I’m a Virgo on your Prime account, navigate to minute 18:30 in episode 7, let it roll, and then check back in here.
Ok, welcome back. Pretty cool, right? What was otherwise a pretty complicated and abstract story comes to a complete stop for what is effectively an experimental live theater production that’s Schoolhouse Rock by way of Karl Marx. While some might find the ostensible climax of the fight between Cootie and The Hero giving way to a lesson to be indicative of the show’s relatively light budget, the truth is it might have origins in the very labor movement that Riley represents.
Take a look at this interview form 2021 in which Riley discusses his origins as a young activist and how his group sought to keep fellow activists enlightened and entertained:
“It might even be plays, because at that time it was the ’80s so [there was] still the legend of Teatro Campesino – a theater group that had been around during Cesar Chavez’s days. That was very much a part of things. It might be ‘you gotta write a play’ by tonight or by noon that lasts for three minutes.”
An entertaining little play that briefly explains the flawed structures of capitalism, you say? Well that now sounds quite familiar. “El Teatro Campesino” or “The Farmworker’s Theater” is a real theater troupe that still exists today. As Riley alludes to, it was founded in 1965 as the cultural arm of the United Farm Workers with the support of labor leader and civil rights activist Cesar Chavez.
Teatro Campesino proved to be so influential in the labor movement that Riley’s young radicals were inspired to put on their own Teatro Campesino-like plays in the ’80s and now we’re seeing the concept bear out again on a major Amazon-owned streaming platform.
All seven episodes of I’m a Virgo are available to stream on Prime Video now.