They Cloned Tyrone
Federal Films, 2023
Tony Rettenmaier / Juel Taylor
📷 : Used with permission, Netflix
Mysteries or whodunnits
Movies and TV shows that make you laugh, or involve urgency, like chase scenes or other physical activity
If you have self-proclaimed independent thinkers in your social circle, you have probably heard the expression “simulation theory” before; maybe more times than you care to. However, the sentiment that we are living in a universe where our decision making and life paths are programmable and even predetermined has been growing for quite a few years now. Such a theory is impossible to prove, lending to endless speculation from conspiracy theorists. There is obvious privilege in even entertaining such theories, as no one struggling to make ends meet can bother to care about a question with no definitive answer. It is nonetheless fun to opine over, and a more provable hypothesis is that of how images in news and media shape our opinions, particularly regarding communities with whom we have little to no interaction. Director Juel Taylor’s new Netflix feature They Cloned Tyrone presents a universe where individuality is intentionally suppressed.
They Cloned Tyrone follows Fontaine, Slick and Yo-Yo, a drug dealer, pimp and prostitute thrust together in an effort to discover why Fontaine seems to have survived a fatal encounter. Upon finding an underground lab in the basement of what appears to be a dope house, they discover that an organization is cloning Black personalities who occupy stereotypical traits. On top of this science experiment, they find that the same organization is performing hypnosis on the Black community through their food supply and their nightlife entertainment to mold them into a monolithic group. Shaken by the abrupt revelation, the three decide to fight back and expose the truth to the world.
This Blaxploitation-influenced mystery hardly serves as the first film to entertain conspiracy theorists. In no uncertain terms, it pays homage to cult classics like A Clockwork Orange, The Matrix, and the more recent horror film, Us. It ponders similar questions to the others, such as “Are we living in a simulation?” or “Are we under constant surveillance?” More specifically, They Cloned Tyrone dives into exactly what its title suggests, which is that powerful organizations may be cloning personalities that reinforce negative stereotypes by manipulating their memories. Fontaine becomes aware of what he represents and must come to grips with his own lack of uniqueness. Along with Slick and Yo-Yo, he realizes that how he reacts to these revelations may allow him to claim and retain his individuality, even if it makes him a threat to the status quo.
As previously stated, They Cloned Tyrone is not the first film centered around characters discovering their own programmed behavior and the conspiracy behind it. Nonetheless, the movie manages to find its own lane in its visual stylistic choices. Despite taking place in the present day, its cinematography and costume design are modeled after the Blaxploitation films of the 1970s. Shaft, Super Fly, Blacula, and Willie Dynamite are a few of the more popular titles for those unfamiliar with the movement. Though the genre is applauded for making Black people the central focus of its stories rather than ancillary characters, Blaxploitation films were also castigated for perpetuating negative stereotypes that associated Black people with crime. This duality makes it a perfect style for They Cloned Tyrone to adopt, and the costuming, hair and makeup, and cinematography mirror that ‘70s look to a tee.
Even with the film’s technical accomplishments, it takes strong acting and great comedic timing to overshadow the film’s weaknesses. Fontaine appears in virtually every scene, and after the first 20 minutes or so, Slick and Yo-Yo are never far behind. John Boyega, Teyonah Paris and Jamie Foxx exhibit their undeniable chemistry throughout the film’s two-hour running time. Additionally, other cast members in the film, such as Keifer Sutherland and David Alan Grier, have proven track records of delivering in multiple genres, specifically comedy. In particular, Foxx and Paris deliver punch lines with the same cadence and inflection that many Blaxploitation actors of the past had mastered. Merging an older style with a contemporary film certainly requires adept on screen talent, and They Cloned Tyrone accomplishes this with its shrewd casting.
The most direct comparisons to this Netflix original have already been stated. To go off the beaten path, They Cloned Tyrone also resembles a 1960s-political thriller, The Manchurian Candidate. In this conspiracy theory film, a prisoner of war is brainwashed into attempting an assassination of a U.S. presidential candidate who is considered a threat to Communism. While less tied to the government, Tyrone addresses the same overarching theme of social engineering and influential powers dictating our every move.