Its comedic timing and almost parody-like undertones might, for some, obscure the more serious and revealing aspects of “They Cloned Tyrone,” a 2023 film directed by Juel Taylor. But its creative showcase of the quotidian oppressions African people face in the U.S. is, despite its dystopian flair, a realistic portrayal of the appropriation and exploitation of Africans.
“They Cloned Tyrone” examines the ways in which stereotypical “black” symbols like fried chicken, perm, rambunctious churches, grape juice, and violent hip-hop are, in the film’s case, literally used to control the minds and actions of black people.
This alludes to the real world in which working class African people don’t have self-determination nor access to the means to acquire it; this feeling of being trapped is also verbally expressed by two of its main characters.
Though stereotypes are used to show examples of the literal control of African people, it is also used to challenge the viewer’s preconceived notions of working-class Africans.
Despite the three main characters being a drug-dealer (Fontaine) played by John Boyega, a prostitute (Yo-Yo) played by Teyonah Parris, and a pimp (Slick Charles) played by Jamie Foxx, it is these same characters who take it upon themselves to expose the exploitative and dehumanizing reality that black people in “The Glen” were living in.
These same characters, especially Yo-Yo and Slick Charles, shatter stereotypes usually ascribed to their class by casually dropping phrases like a “slippery slope of recidivism” and Yo-Yo’s nerdy interests in the sleuthing tales of Nancy Drew and literature in general.
Fontaine first realizes he’s a clone when he pulls a “Lazarus” and scares other people who witnessed him getting shot the night before–only for him to wake up the next day thinking it was all a nightmare.
Once it is revealed that Africans in this town were being experimented on, cloned, and used as puppets to reproduce the violent conditions that box Africans within an inescapable system of depravity, whatever serotonin the comedic effects the movie might have induced is quickly dispersed.
The film goes to lengths to show the mind-control effects the hair perm product has on African women. Incessantly advertised on TV, the slogan “straighter is greater” is heard. At the salon, viewers hear an African woman complain about the school board’s unwillingness to properly fund her school. But as soon as the perm is applied to her hair, she relents, and says “maybe I’m tripping.”
“This idea of assimilation, though
dramatized for the purposes of
the film, are ideals the petty-
bourgeoisie espouse and internalize
in order to be rewarded by the
colonial capitalist system.”
The fried chicken fast-food restaurant is also constantly advertised–only for viewers to find out its ingredients include agents that induce uncanny bouts of laughing and unseriousness. In essence, distracting and pacifying any potential revolutionary consciousness Africans might have.
After some investigating, largely pushed for by Yo-Yo and her Nancy Drew-esque tendencies, the trio realizes that it was specific people that were getting cloned. These people were those the white experimenters deemed crucial in using to perpetuate the oppressed material conditions of black people–drug dealers, pimps, etc. What’s worse is that, to some extent, these same people see themselves as active agents of the problem.
“We make things bad for ‘em,” says Fontaine–them being in reference to the women and youth of his community.
“They Cloned Tyrone’s” commentary is reminiscent of Jordan Peele’s Get Out in that both films explore the colonial tendency to appropriate, dehumanize, and thingify Africans and their bodies to the benefit and longevity of the white ruling class–very much like the capitalist reality that has built its world on the pedestal of African labor.
Both films interrogate and show that the commodification of African people’s bodies and their labor-producing power has historically and contemporarily been exploited to be sold and profited from for the survival of the colonial capitalist system.
When viewers learn the identity of the experiments’ architect, not only is it a shock but a telling message of the film as well. This architect (whose identity will be omitted for the sake of spoilers) argues that “assimilation is better than annihilation.”
The slow and deliberate disappearing of black people and their eventual reassimilation, as literal white people, seems to the architect as the only way to save America and avoid “fighting a war [African people] can never win.”
This idea of assimilation, though dramatized for the purposes of the film, are ideals the petty-bourgeoisie espouse and internalize in order to be rewarded by the colonial capitalist system.
The African Internationalist not only rejects this idea but actively fights for the acquisition of the dual and contending power of the African working class in order to free ourselves from the yoke that is colonial capitalism.
Much like the film, the African Internationalist theory, as developed by Chairman Omali Yeshitela, recognizes the everyday expressions of colonial capitalism and the direct and indirect control it has over Africans worldwide.
But unlike the film, the theory holds that the only way to liberation on all fronts is through the international socialist revolution led by the masses of African people.
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