Cleopatra Jones (1973)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Cleopatra Jones</strong> (1973)

(On Cable TV, July 2018) Blaxsploitation movies will always have a special place in my cinephile’s heart, and Cleopatra Jones feels like a particularly fine example of the form: not overly known, yet featuring pretty much everything we’d expect from the subgenre and sporting a terrific heroine in the lead. Tamara Dobson stars in the title character, a glamorous undercover agent for the US government. Coming back home from an anti-drug foreign intervention, she gets to clean up her neighbourhood from dealers with a fair amount of kung-fu. But the plot isn’t the point of a film fostering black solidarity against drugs, promoting ways to work within the system to resolve troubling issues and doing so with an overwhelming sense of style. Dobson is so spectacular that she doesn’t need to disrobe to appeal to audiences—her sheer presence and fashion sense are enough. It’s almost satisfying to hear the characters in the film echo the same conclusion: “Black is beautiful” indeed. From a contemporary perspective, there is often a disconnect between the historical near-hysteric reactions to Blaxploitation movies from conservative circles and the film we see from today’s perspective—especially notable here is how staid and law-abiding the film feels, with a standard anti-drug message and some complementarity between Jones and the White establishment—some racist cop antagonists aside. Cleopatra Jones doesn’t feel particularly subversive nor dangerous, but that does give it a very specific charm even today.

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