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Basement Medicine

The student-run community news site of Vermont State University - Johnson

Basement Medicine

The student-run community news site of Vermont State University - Johnson

Basement Medicine

“A Blaxploitation Scooby-Doo”

From+left+to+right%3A+Jamie+Foxx+as+Slick%2C+Teyonah+Parris+as+Yo-yo%2C+and+John+Boyega+as+Fontaine.
Courtesy Netflix
From left to right: Jamie Foxx as Slick, Teyonah Parris as Yo-yo, and John Boyega as Fontaine.

Netflix gives us yet another hit with Tony Rettenmaier and Juel Taylor’s debut film They Cloned Tyrone, a Blaxploitation Sci-fi comedy. Released to the streaming platform on July 21, the film mixes components of social injustice, grief, and community awareness into a classic Scooby-Doo-like plot. The film pulls you along with the characters as they investigate the secrets behind their mysteriously never-changing lives.
The movie follows John Boyega as Fontaine, a drug dealer living in the suburban, primarily Black neighborhood of Glen. He takes the same actions relatively every day: He checks on his mother (whom neither we nor Fontaine ever see), buys a scratch-off and says a short “hello” to the town drunk by giving him a bit of liquor. After collecting owed money from his customer, a pimp named Slick (played by Jamie Foxx), he is shot to death outside of a motel. The very next day, however, Fontaine wakes up in his bedroom, unharmed, with no memory of the night before. He goes about his day, repeating the previous day’s actions before returning once again to Slick’s room, where he learns of his “pulling a 50 Cent.”
After confirming the situation with Yo-Yo (Teyonah Parris), a clever prostitute with hopes of leaving Glen, the three of them investigate and discover an underground laboratory, “a white man with an afro,” and a dead body that looks exactly like Fontaine. A series of events lead them to the discovery that their entire neighborhood is being surveyed, cloned, and experimented on, all in order to turn them into white people. How has no one noticed?
All members of the community have been continuously dosed with a hallucinatory drug called “Compound H,” put into common, “everyday” products in their community: fried chicken, communion “Grape Drink,” and hair relaxers. And just when you think the characters have found out all there is to know, we’re thrown into even more madness.
The movie is packed with hints about the ending that you wouldn’t notice unless you’re paying attention. A perm commercial played early in the movie uses the slogan “straighter is greater,” and the use of Michael Jackson in select scenes work together to suggest the Big Bad’s motivations behind the operation. Song lyrics used throughout the movie explicitly include mentions of mind control, hidden behind catchy beats. Solidifying the movie in the blaxploitation genre, They Cloned Tyrone is studded with references from classic others, like Youngblood’s brown jacket from Superfly and “Anaconda Malt Liquor” from Black Dynamite, which Taylor says Michael Jai White “graciously let him 100% steal” after he wrote it into the script as a joke.
The album for the movie, also released with the same title on July 21, contains a mix of pop, rock, and hip-hop, with classic funk and soul components, all providing the perfect funky, almost psychedelic vibe for the movie. The most notable part of the music used is that a few of the songs featured are comical parodies of their originals. Erykah Badu’s “Tyrone” is lyrically remixed and re-recorded by Badu herself, then titled “They Cloned Tyrone.” The Netflix music list includes additional remixed songs not featured on the soundtrack, but that are used throughout the movie. In an otherwise silent scene, an altered version of Mary J. Blige’s “I’m Going Down” is sung by Yo-yo and Slick while in an elevator bringing them to an underground lab.

In an earlier scene, “Back That Azz Up,” by Juvenile ft. Lil Wayne and Mannie Fresh, plays on an organ without lyrics during a praise and worship at church.
My favorite component of the movie is the writers’ use of the Magical Negro trope, very commonly used in American media and cinema. The “Magical Negro” is a Black character whose entire purpose is to be helpful to the main, white protagonist, and guide them to/through their character development or story. This character is usually disabled, in trouble, or in some standing “lower” than the protagonist, and has magical powers or wisdom that is under-explained or not at all. Well-known examples of the Magical Negro include Jim, the freed slave in Huckleberry Finn, John Coffey in The Green Mile, and Dick Halloran in The Shining.
While all the protagonists in this movie are Black, the possibly unintentional use of “Magical Negro” in this movie is an objectively brilliant one. Frog, played by Leon Lamar, the drunk, homeless man that Fontaine says hello to every day, is featured in multiple scenes, spewing what seems to be drunken ramblings. Quickly though, we begin to notice that Frog’s words of wisdom provide hints to the viewers and the characters about what’s going on behind the scenes.
What makes this use of the Magical Negro trope brilliant is that They Cloned Tyrone is set in a world where someone like Frog is expected to be. If you know classic Black films and are familiar with like neighborhoods, you’ll notice that the town drunk is an integral part of the community. He may have once been the educated friend of your mother or grandmother or auntie, someone the elders aged with, or someone’s uncle’s cousin’s brother-in-law, but he is always exactly where you expect him. Outside the liquor store, talking about nothing and everything to anyone unfortunate enough to get pulled into a conversation. This person exists in the real world, is a part of many people’s every day, and in a way does exactly what Taylor writes him to do in this movie. While Taylor may not have intended for Frog to fit this trope, he admits in an interview with The Breakroom that when the movie was first pitched, Frog was proposed to be the original Tyrone, which explains his exceptional sense for the unusual.
The movie features many other stars, like Kiefer Sutherland as Nixon, a henchman of the big bad we meet towards the end, David Alan Grier as The Preacher in the church scenes, J. Alphonse Nicholson as Isaac, the owner of Glen’s chicken spot, Tamberla Perry as Biddy, a friend of Yo-yo, and Eric Robinson Jr. as Big Moss, Fontaine’s right hand.
The nail-biting suspense and the intense action scenes create the perfect experience for movie lovers everywhere. You’ll follow the hilarious, lovable, relatable characters through every moment, left on the edge of your seat wondering, “But who is Tyrone!?” until the very end.

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Dayne Bell, Editor in Chief
Dayne (he/they) is a creative writing student who has probably already told you where he's from. His zodiac sign is Pisces, which tells you everything you need to know.

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