Cleopatra Jones (1973)

cleopatra jones poster 1973
6.5 Overall Score
Story: 4/10
Acting: 6/10
Visuals: 7/10

Fun and funny

Proves a lot of cliches along with its attempt to change perceptions

Movie Info

Movie Name:  Cleopatra Jones

Studio:  Warner Bros./William Tennant Productions

Genre(s):  Action/Adventure/Blaxploitation/B-Movie

Release Date(s):  July 13, 1973

MPAA Rating:  PG

cleopatra jones tamara dobson heroin

That heroin isn’t getting into my community!!!

Cleopatra Jones (Tamara Dobson) is on a mission to clean up her neighborhood.  The secret agent has just destroyed a major poppy field belonging to Mommy (Shelley Winters) and Mommy’s not happy.  Now Mommy is out to wreck Cleo’s halfway house for drug addicts by turning a racist cop on it.  Cleopatra Jones and the government are out to stop Mommy, but Cleo going to do it her own way.

Directed by Jack Starrett, Cleopatra Jones is a blaxploitation action movie.  The film was part of the big blaxploitation explosion following the release of Shaft in 1971.  The movie had a strong box office return but mixed reviews from critics.

Blaxploitation films are tricky because as their title implies they are exploitive, but at the same time somewhat empowering.  Many cite that movies were made by white backers who used African-American stereotypes to make a buck, but the flipside of that is that the movies were big moneymakers, helped make a lot of African-American actors famous, and helped mainstream pictures with stars who had previously been delegated to supporting roles.

cleopatra jones bernie casey tamara dobson

Don’t worry…I’ll save this halfway house!

Cleopatra Jones combines the “Black Power” movement with the big feminist movement at the time.  Jones is proud and strong and just gives off a sense of power to everyone who meets her.  She’s often described as a James Bond type character not because of her job, but because of the fact she never hides who she is.  If you ran into the character on the street, she’d tell you she’s a secret agent…that’s a horrible cover and material worthy of FX Network’s Archer, but it works here (and in Bond films).

Tamara Dobson isn’t much of an actor.  With the cliché style script, her amateur status doesn’t hurt much and it helps that she was a 6’ 2” supermodel who does impose on everyone she’s seen with.  Cleopatra is the type of character that future characters like Beyoncé Knowles’ Foxxy Cleopatra was based on (obviously with Foxy Brown).  While Goldmember plays Foxxy Cleopatra as a joke, here Cleopatra Jones sometimes feels like a joke, but she isn’t really intended to be in the same way (there is humor mixed in).

cleopatra jones mommy shelley winters

Don’t mess with Mommy

Critics often cite the movie as distinguishing between the African-American women’s movement and the white women’s movement.  Mommy is portrayed as a controlling lesbian-like monster.  She’s strong, powerful, and controls her own company and men and hated for it.  She doesn’t possess any sense of beauty or femininity and this is a sharp contrast to Cleopatra.  It still is pretty amazing how far Shelley Winters fell to be in this type of movie.  On a side note, the movie also features an early appearance of Ester Rolle as Mrs. Johnson in her pre-Maude and Good Times days.

Cleopatra Jones is fun and a great example of blaxploitation and its positives and negatives.  Cleopatra within the film tries to instill pride in the people she meets (and does), but it still feels like almost everyone she encounters in her world is a stereotype.  Cleopatra Jones did spawn a sequel in Cleopatra Jones and the Casino of Gold in 1975, but the movie failed to live up to the original film’s profitability.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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