‘They Cloned Tyrone’ masterfully portrays life in Black America


TLDR: violence, sex work, and pimping are manufactured by white supremacy (symbolized by The Glen’s all White gatekeepers).

“What happens to a dream deferred?” Fontaine, Yo-Yo, and Slick Charles might know. They make up a dynamic trio in the Netflix film They Cloned Tyrone, which is Juel Taylor’s directorial debut. In this insipid Sci-Fi horror story, an American town known as “The Glen” is subject to mind control via stereotypical items: fried chicken, box perms, drugs, and music. Additionally, residents of “The Glen” are being taken to a “super freaky laboratory” where they are programmed and experimented on. 

Although a work of fiction, there are some hidden messages that symbolize reality. Really, the troubled trio is an embodiment of a “dream deferred.” In the poem “Harlem,” Langston Hughes reflects on the precarious position that African Americans were subject to during his time. He writes:

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up

      like a raisin in the sun?

 Or fester like a sore—

      And then run?

      Does it stink like rotten meat?

      Or crust and sugar over—

      like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags

      like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

Langston Hughes, Harlem

At the time of the poem’s publication (1951), Harlem was 98 percent Black, according to New York Amsterdam News. Moreover, Encyclopedia.com notes that it was considered a “city within a city” because it housed “the normal gamut of classes, businesses, and cultural and recreational institutions traditionally identified with urban living.” It became a cultural hub for Black intellectuals and the birthplace of the Harlem Renaissance. However, after World War II, things shifted. As middle-class African Americans migrated to more affluent neighborhoods, Harlem lost its political power, and only a few writers stayed in the Black enclave. By the 1960s, Encyclopedia.com writes, “It was a ghetto, created, maintained, and condoned by white society.”

This is likely what Hughes meant when he described Harlem as a “dream deferred.” 72 years later, his words resonate. In Netflix’s “They Cloned Tyrone,” one character in particular experiences a dream-deferred: Yo-Yo. Although the movie has no exact time or place, its messages can be applied to many urban settings.


Sam Johnson/Netflix

Yo-Yo, the film’s titular female character, is a Nancy Drew enthusiast who had aspirations of writing for the New York Times, but she was never able to leave The Glen. She does sex work to survive, but she makes it known that she has bigger dreams than this.

Yo-Yo’s story is familiar. According to authors William H. Chafe, Raymond Gavins, and Robert Korstad in Remembering Jim Crow: African Americans Tell About Life in the Segregated South, “White supremacy shaped the terms of black employment.” In The Glen, white supremacy is a key factor in its conditions. With a team of all-white men disappearing Black people to perform experiments, the underlying message is clear.

Going back to Harlem, sex work was a form of survival in the 1930s. In his book Sex Workers, Psychics, and Numbers Runners: Black Women in New York City’s Underground Economy, Lashawn Harris details the reasons Black women opted for the informal economy. He said, “Limited employment opportunities and low wages made it virtually impossible for working-class African American women to navigate the urban terrain.”

Even prolific people like Maya Angelou were involved in sex work, but They Cloned Tyrone touches on this delicate subject with care. Although Yo-Yo is a sex worker, that is but one part of her story. She becomes instrumental in saving The Glen, which adds a relieving layer of depth to a colorful character. From her hair to her bright yellow fits, Yo-Yo is a standout gal, and her costume choices were emblematic.


In Japan, yellow symbolizes courage; in China, adult films are called “yellow films.” according to the Institute of Production and Recording. In many ways, Yo-Yo was courageous, even to her own detriment. When she attempts to mail a letter to the news exposing The Glen and its sick experimentation, she is kidnapped.

Although Fontaine and Slick Charles orchestrate her rescue, Yo-Yo plays a role in that too, distracting the security guard while Slick Charles quietly sneaks up behind him. Like Yo-Yo, Slick Charles is a brilliant character whose personality provides comedic relief to an otherwise dismal film.

Slick Charles

Credit: Sam Johnson/Netflix

Also like Yo-Yo, Slick Charles was familiar. According to the filmmaker, Slick Charles’ final costume was an homage to Priest from the 1972 film Super Fly. This Easter egg can help viewers understand the underlying messages in Slick Charles’ character. As a whole, They Cloned Tyrone was a nod to Blaxploitation, a genre of 70s movies that featured all Black casts and depicted various facets of Black life.

This was best seen in Slick Charles. From his hair to his mannerisms, he was the embodiment of a Blaxploitation-era pimp. Slick Charles’ characterization is an important plot point because, in many ways, he is an access point between The Glen’s gatekeepers and The Glen’s residents.

In addition to pimping, he sells drugs for Fontaine. By selling drugs, he inadvertently advances the goals of The Glen’s gatekeepers. At the beginning of the movie, Fontaine haggles a cash-strapped Slick Charles for money he’s owed. Yet, during this encounter, we find out that Fontaine’s product hasn’t been moving as it should, and there is a reason behind this. The gatekeepers have replaced powder cocaine with a control powder that keeps The Glen’s residents under mind control. 

By having Slick Charles distribute the powder, the filmmakers are giving subtle hints about modern pimping. In a study done by Urban Institute, almost a third of the people they spoke to got into pimping by way of drug dealing. The authors wrote, “Respondents described this relationship as largely driven by links between the demand for drugs and the demand for sex.”

In some cases, customers become clients. That is, a person who is buying from the plug may eventually become their client when they enter the underground sex economy. However, there are many pathways to pimping, and the film touched on one entry point with care.

While many modern depictions of pimps focus on the violence often inflicted upon women in the underground sex economy, some pimps in the study reported to have standards. When they heard about a pimp trafficking his client, they said, “Pimping has a lot to do with standards. Some people are so anxious to be involved, they will just go below standard.”

Slick Charles had some standards. We don’t see him being violent toward Yo-Yo or any of the other women working for him. Really, we get a nuanced looked at what pimping might look like. So, while he occupies a less-than-ideal position, he is still a complete character.

The same can be said for Fontaine.


Sam Johnson/Netflix

Fontaine is the main character of the film, and he is the main driver of the plot. By positioning him as a drug dealer, the filmmakers are foreshadowing the twist we see at the end of the movie: Fontaine is the mind behind The Glen. Earlier in the movie, we found out that Fontaine’s cocaine was replaced with the control powder, and this was the first hint that Fontaine played a role in The Glen’s mind control.

Although inadvertent, his distribution of the powder is what keeps the town under mind control. Yet, he does not realize that he is doing this. Throughout most of the movie, Fontaine is just trying to survive. To an extent, Fontaine is a representation of being a poor Black person in America today.

On its face, The Glen is a segregated area. All of the residents are Black, and they face economic and social hardships. One of the byproducts of segregation is that Black people are concentrated in areas with little economic opportunity. Like in The Glen, Black people are seemingly trapped in these areas, as they were historically redlined and bulldozed. Moreover, deindustrialization hit Black areas the hardest, as residential segregation limited the jobs they could do.

For these reasons, it makes sense that the main characters of They Cloned Tyrone are all involved in the informal economy. As it nods to Blaxploitation, the film also outlines what life was like for Black people from the 70s to today. Through Fontaine’s character, we are exposed to the violence young Black men face in many communities like The Glen.


At the start of the movie, Fontaine is killed in an act of gun violence. The beef between Isaac and Fontaine underscores street conflicts that lead to violence in America’s poorest neighborhoods.

Really, The Glen could be anywhere that is stringently segregated, economically deprived, and riddled with violence. Chicago’s South and west sides could be The Glen. Atlanta could be The Glen. Baltimore or Philadelphia could be The Glen. What the filmmakers did through Fontaine and Isaac’s beef was portray conditions that are manufactured. One of the main ideas from the movie is that violence, sex work, and pimping are manufactured by white supremacy (symbolized by The Glen’s all White gatekeepers).

Yet, Fontaine is the mind behind it.


In a final plot twist, we learn that Fontaine is one of many clones of himself and the original version of him created The Glen because “assimilation is better than annihilation.” As John Boyega delivers this creepy line, we are reminded that all skinfolk are not kinfolk. OG Fontaine created The Glen as an experiment in assimilating Black people into white society by literally turning them white. This is why we see white men with Afros throughout the movie.

The thought process that Black people should assimilate is based on the racist deficit model that Black people have a deficit that needs to be “fixed.” This ideology led to the equally racist Moynihan report, where Daniel Moynihan tried to place the blame for the Black community’s problems at Black women’s feet. By including references to the deficit model in the movie, the filmmakers hinted at the fact that some Black people would harm their community if they had the power to.

Additionally, OG Fontaine shows how unhealed trauma leads to anti-Blackness. In many ways, this fictional character bears a similarity to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. In the same way OG Fontaine hasn’t coped with his brother’s tragic murder, Clarence Thomas did not heal from the colorism and racism he faced as a youth. As a result, both men became active participants in their community’s demise.

By the end of the film, the filmmakers offered the only logical solution to white supremacy: we must kill these attitudes. However, the cliffhanger at the end shows the greatest challenge to killing white supremacy: it’s everywhere. 


  • Javanna Plummer

    Javanna is the editor of "Rwebel Magazine," the architect behind "Rwebel Radio," and the pioneering force of "Xscape." Through her words, Javanna hopes to inspire creativity, passion, and forward-thinking.

About This Rwebel

Leave a Reply