Obviously there will be spoilers, but I refuse to tell you who Tyrone is.
They Cloned Tyrone is brilliant in both its concept and execution. Here’s the story: A drug dealer, a pimp, and a ho (their words, not mine) uncover a national government-sponsored cloning project. Imagine it: Black people all around the U.S. being cloned and controlled through food, music, religion, and relaxers.
It’s a conspiracy rooted in some historical truths, from the Tuskegee Experiment to Henrietta Lacks. On the surface, we see a pimp who owes money to a drug dealer and a ho who wants to leave the streets behind. Deep beneath this presumably poor Black neighborhood there is a plot to clone Black people. And you’ll never guess who’s in on it!
SciFi is not a simple genre to explore. With the overuse of CGI and the overall lack of originality, going to the cinema has been a toss up. But the cast of ‘Tyrone’ gave me hope. I was drawn in before I realized it—the mix of old school aesthetics and new school tech, the callback to the Pam Grier era of movies (one character even calls Teyonah Parris’s character “Foxy Brown” as she walks by), a rhythmically organic dialogue flow between characters, the low-key thrill of the film’s buildup as they learn the truth behind this massive bioengineering experiment—it’s what we’ve been waiting for as movie fans. I am currently on my third viewing of the film.
The encapsulating aura of Jamie Foxx’s method acting, the sharp timing of John Boyega, and the casual slay of Teyonah Parris’s delivery were woven beautifully in this film. It is both nostalgic and futuristic in its vibe — thanks to costume designer Francine Jamison-Tanchuck. She brought that Boomerang-era swag back to the screen in a major way.
Each character had so many layers of vulnerability that carried us (not so gently) across a spectrum of emotions. I am incredibly impressed by the director & writer Juel Taylor.
Now, here is everything I hated about They Cloned Tyrone:
1. That hypnotic soundtrack
I hate that I had to keep pausing the movie to search up the songs on the soundtrack. From that intro with “Peeping Tom” by Elyse “EAT” Thoms and Ter’ron “Fat” Ron to Alison Myers’ “I wanna thank you” to “Love Hangover” by Diana Ross, I was googling the night away. The music perfectly syncopated with the retro-futuristic atmosphere. This soundtrack was a pure masterpiece from Desmond Murray and Pierre Charles.
2. The product placements
Got Damn! Fried Chicken gave me “I’m Gonna Git You Sucka” vibes with a little Black Dynamite sprinkled in. The brand was very Popeyes-esque, down to the dancing chicken lady. When I saw a bunch of Black people dancing and eating chicken while the announcers hollered “herbs & spices at discount prices,” it was a little too real, if you know what I mean.
Grape Drink was dropped into scenes throughout, which I didn’t notice the first time I watched. In real life, I’m sure it had a brand name, but we all just called it Grape Drink. It was in every home I visited growing up. It’s like an attempt to be healthy without the means to follow through.
And most Black girls probably have a traumatic story about their first perm. Those boxes would be prominently displayed in every drug store and hair shop growing up. We would be standing their with our nappy/kinky/thick natural hair gazes at smiling little Black girls with their chemically burned tresses, not knowing what it would do to us mentally or culturally. And recently we learned that the little girls on the boxes to promote those harsh chemicals didn’t even have perms! But They Cloned Tyrone gave a whole new meaning for the term “relaxer” when those little boxes of sodium hydroxide started exhibiting opioid-like side effects.
All the hood landmarks were the same wherever you go: plenty liquor stores, pawn shops, check cashing payday loan spots, churches, and hair salons. It’s a little scary when you realize how similar our prisons are.
3. David Alan Grier
Listen–I cannot name a single David Alan Grier project that I don’t love. I am forever grateful to Keenan Ivory Wayans for creating In Living Color because that’s how I was first introduced to the talented Mr. Grier…even though I was way too young to be watching it at the time.
David Alan Grier brought to life some of our greatest fears about religion in a subtle yet powerful way in ‘Tyrone’. This was at least the fourth time I’ve seen Grier play a man of God. His reverend character was decidedly more sinister in his sermon than the one he played in Black Lady Sketch Show and Martin. And when the church members took up the blood of Christ for communion in the name of Obedience – that was haunting. It spoke volumes and I suspect a lot of us really felt seen in that scene.
The church was an embodiment of the Good Times theme song:
“Temporary lay offs. GOOD TIMES! Easy credit rip offs. GOOD TIMES! Scratchin’ and survivin’. GOOD TIMES! Hangin and a jiving GOOD TIMES!…ain’t we lucky we got ‘em… GOOD TIMES!”
Now compare that to Grier’s sermon:
“It don’t matter how bad your life is. It don’t matter that you’re about to get evicted. It don’t matter if you got a light bill due. It don’t matter if you got a gas bill too. It don’t matter…if your grandson Jamal was gunned down in a drive-by shooting right next to the Dairy Queen…”
Both demonstrate the burden that Black folks have historically carried all while singing and dancing away their pain. All while we TRUST and OBEY—on a They Live tip. Grier can do no wrong in my eyes. I hate that he didn’t have more screen time.
4. Rewatching it to write this review
The first time around, I was so caught up and in awe that I missed some key points in the film. I have been a fan of John Boyega since Attack the Block. Even in his 15 seconds in MisFits, he was memorable.
But I definitely did not catch his Clockwork Orange reference in this movie. First Jamie Foxx’s character mentions it, then they actually have a woman’s eye stretched open for some mind control training – it freaked me out. The difference in Tyrone is that a Black woman was forced to watch, while the white dude from CO volunteered. I remember watching Clockwork Orange in AP Psychology and the next day I dropped out of the class. Another serious difference between the two films is that Tyrone explores a systematic problem, while the other is simply one sociopath raining terror on everyone.
5. All that behind-the-camera-Black
Directors, producers, and writers, oh my! I was already hooked on Boyega and Jamie Foxx (he had a couple certified bangers on Netflix, like Day Shift & Power), and Teyonah Parris’s portrayal of Yo-Yo was my hero in the Candyman remake.
But then I started researching the names in the credits. Juel Taylor, the co-screenwriter behind Creed II, gets his first directing credit for Tyrone, and he grew up in Tuskegee. Macros Media (Sorry to Bother You & Raising Deon) is led by producer Charles D. King. Steven “DR” Love and Datari Turner are credited as producers as well. Francine Jamison-Tanchuck understood her assignment as the costume designer. Kim Coleman was the absolutely incredible casting director, and I am mad I hadn’t known her name before the film. You may not know her name, but Tierra Harris was the visual effects coordinator and she has been part of some faves like Black Lightning and the MCU.
6. The remixed version of “Call Tyrone”
No joke, this is the only thing I actually did hate about the movie. I know some people will be mad about this one, but I was just not into it. And I know Erykah Badu specially re-recorded it for the film which is major, but…just no. Felt like the time she body shamed Black teenagers in defense of the pied piper. Issa No For Me Dawg.
I could make all kinds of references to mind control movies from the past – They Live, The Faculty, Space is the Place, Get Out, The Spook Who Sat By The Door – but They Cloned Tyrone is in a class of its own. It has a little flavor from the best parts of Blaxploitation. There is a balance of science fiction and realism. It goes beyond satire and is comfortably settled in its own category.
The Final Take
The film reminds us that we don’t have to be clones of the caricatures that have been perpetuated in film and television. I saw some of myself in each character. Code switching, assimilation, integration — it is all a form of “making a deal with the devil,” as Old Fontaine reveals towards the end of the movie. But we can escape that version and become unapologetic in our presentation. And that’s what I love most about They Cloned Tyrone.
Word to Olympia Black.