Review: Cleopatra Jones (1973)
When it comes to Blaxploitation cinema, it's my opinion that there are two distinct types of films within the genre. In one camp are the films born out of the exploitation scene of the late sixties and early seventies, produced independently and often gritty, authentic, and occasionally even shocking. In the other camp are the films that came slightly later, when the major film studios recognized the trend and started to pursue the genre themselves. These big studio Blaxploitation films often feature slick cinematography, established talent from within the studio system on both sides of the camera, and sometimes feature a more sanitized, broader approach to the genre.
1973's Cleopatra Jones falls into the latter category. Produced by Warner Brothers, this PG-rated outing stars Tamara Dobson (just one year removed from her major motion picture debut in the ensemble cop film Fuzz) as the title character, a sassy, street-wise fox (complete with afro) who just so happens to work for the government in the war against drugs. When we first meet Cleopatra, she's laying waste to a poppy field far from the borders of the United States; but her real trouble starts when she discovers that the battle against drugs must not only be fought on foreign soil, but in her very own hometown neighborhood.
While not as instantly-classic as other examples of the genre like Coffy or Foxy Brown, there's quite a bit to admire about Cleopatra Jones: she's a black woman in a position of tremendous power who has no trouble taking care of herself. In 1973, that was absolutely revolutionary...hey, it still is today. Dobson's character remains an icon all these years later, and it's worth pointing out that Beyonce plays a similar agent named Foxxy Cleopatra in 2002's Austin Powers in Goldmember, honoring in name both Pam Grier and Tamara Dobson for the trails they blazed. Cleopatra Jones is a fun, action-packed example of big studio Blaxploitation, and one that I'm thrilled to have in my collection.