John Boyega And Teyonah Parris Talk They Cloned Tyrone’s Twist Ending

Photo: Courtesy of Netflix.
It would be easy to put They Cloned Tyrone into a neat little box alongside other Black-led sci-fi stories as of late that are also simmering with satire and hanging out in the horror/thriller genre. Since Jordan Peele’s trailblazing masterpiece Get Out, there have been a string of recent films and TV (Us, Lovecraft Country, Nanny, Candyman, Them, The BlackeningI could go on) that use eerie storytelling to get to the truth of the brutality of racism and the nuances of the Black experience in America. It makes sense. What’s more horrifying than the lasting effects of white supremacy? Some of these recent additions to the genre have been effective in “capturing, in various ways, what it feels like to experience horror as a Black American, when your mere presence can itself be a source of terror to others,” as The New York Times put it, while others have fallen victim to the oversaturation, and repetition of the trend. It can be horrifying to be Black in a world hell bent on brutalizing and belittling us, but it’s also tiring to see that play out onscreen over and over again. 
Sure, They Cloned Tyrone could be listed among the aforementioned pieces of work, but it’s not just another “racism is scary, get it?” story. It draws on inspiration from the Blaxploitation era to deliver a wild ride that can’t be simply categorized as one thing. It will have you laughing in one scene and blowing your mind in the next, your jaw on the floor while also agape with laughter. It’s unsettling and uplifting, joyful yet distressing. The film follows Fontaine (the always enigmatic John Boyega), a drug dealer just trying to go about his day, a pimp named Slick (Jamie Foxx at his very best) who’s got debts as long as his fur-lined leather trench, and sex worker Yo-Yo (Teyonah Parris) who is fed up with her life and the men controlling it. When Fontaine miraculously survives his own murder, the trio set out to solve the mysteries of their neighborhood. Director and co-writer Juel Taylor weaves a fantastical tale of friendship, adventure and mayhem while critiquing cultural appropriation, socioeconomic status, Blackness as a monolith, respectability politics, eurocentric beauty standards, and more. It’s ambitious, hilarious, and, at times, very weird. Like the conspiracy theories that proliferate in Black spaces (barbershops, Black Twitter, back alleys, take your pick), They Cloned Tyone’s strength lies in its contradictions and its absurdity. 
In a hotel room in Miami, the day after the film’s premiere at the American Black Film Festival last month, Parris and Boyega sat down with Unbothered to chat about They Cloned Tyrone’s genre-defying story, the memorable way Jamie Foxx showed up to set every day, the conspiracy theories they totally believe in, and that twist ending. Spoilers ahead. 
Unbothered: I want to talk about the chemistry between the three of you, because so much of this movie hinges on the audience believing Slick, Fontaine and Yo-Yo are from the same neighborhood and that they would ride for each other. So how did you build that report with Jamie?
John Boyega: We just did it! [laughs]
Teyonah Parris: We didn't even have any rehearsals, all three of us together prior to filming. I think that the first time all of us were together was at “action,” right? Luckily, Jamie's such an open person and a generous artist, as is John, and I like to think of myself as one as well. And so we just really were there and it just happened. 
That’s a testament to how good you all are at your jobs. We know Jamie Foxx is a legend, but was there something specific he brought to the set that was invaluable?
JB: It was positive energy. That, and his music — he had this little bag with him with a speaker and boombox. The boombox is built into the bag. I got one. He gave me one.
TP: His boombox bookbag! He didn’t give me one! But John gave me a scooter so that was fun. I saw him scooting around and I was like, “I want one!” But yeah, every time [Jamie] entered the set, It was like a boxer entering the ring. He had music. Everybody knew when Jamie was coming to set. 
Give us a taste of what he was playing. What were his walk-on songs?
JB: Well, he had Biggie songs. And he even had some UK shit! He played Stormzy. He played all types of stuff.
TP: [Director] Juel [Taylor] reminded me that on Jamie’s first day, he came into “WAP!” It was hilarious. He played a variety of music.
This film has a lot of sci-fi elements. There is the satire, that kind of social commentary that comes with it. And I think any time now that there's a black film with social commentary that's a thriller with a little bit of horror, there's comparison to Get Out. How do you feel about that comparison, and why do you think that that genre is such an effective tool for satire? 
TP: Well, the great thing about They Cloned Tyrone is that we are pulling from so many genres. There’s horror, satire as you spoke about, comedy, sci-fi, thriller. So we really weren't put into a box because there wasn't a box to be put into. We got to play around and really create our own boundaries and world build. And that was fun, figuring out how to balance the tone in this world we created so that we were all in the same film. But being compared to those films or [Get Out] being thought of when our film is thought of, I think that's great. They're great films with smart creators behind them, just like this one. Working with Juel, he is such a visionary and he's extremely smart. So I knew when I spoke to him early on in the process — before even being cast — it was like, “Okay, he's got a very strong point of view, and he's really excited and determined to make a dope film, fresh film.”
JB: I don’t mind that comparison either. I think that's what people naturally do anyway. You know, when you're pitching a film, people have to know the other references and things that they were pulling from [for inspiration]. That's quite cool. With this film, I definitely feel like there's such specific world building. I don't even know what city it is, or what time. I realized watching the film that Jamie references 9/11, so that takes us to a different time. I like that creative freedom.
Yeah, there was a reference to Blockchain, and I was like, "Wait, what year is it?" I thought it was set in the 70s. 
TP: Yes! It’s any place, anywhere, any time. That's what is dope about it. Even with our wardrobe. Fontaine is pretty modern. Slick looks straight out of the ‘70s, and I look 70s-ish. I think that also speaks to how this story can happen anytime, anywhere.
Photo: Courtesy of Netflix.
There are comedic elements in the film. It's so funny at certain times, but there's also this serious message behind it. The tone really flips, just like the wardrobe and the timing throughout. So how did you balance the different tones on set?
JB: I think it naturally plays out in the script anyway. Juel [Taylor] has this balance of really light moments, then social commentary. Really light moments, then horror. I think that mesh is really quite fun for people because there are quite a few tense moments that make you go a little bit deeper, and then you kind of balance that by Jamie Foxx coming in with a charismatic line. [laughs] You are able to feel entertained throughout those ups and downs. I think that originated from the strength of the script.
Teyonah, there's this moment where Yo-Yo pulls off her wig and then, because of the wig, she’s able to escape the mind control. It was hilarious, but it also felt a deeper commentary on the expression of Black hair and the freedom of it. How did you interpret that moment?
TP: That moment is really special to me because obviously scripts go through many different variations and versions, and so there was a different ending. There were like two or three different endings, and the one right before we were about to shoot was not what we actually see. Before this moment you're referring to, I remember pulling our writers Tony and Juel to the side. Juel is our director as well, but I pulled them to the side and said, ‘Hey, I feel like we've built Yo-Yo up and created this woman who's very self-sufficient, very ambitious. And at this point in the story, she is the one trying to galvanize and wrangle these men to get behind her or beside her and let’s effect some change. Let's help our people. You know, but it doesn't quite work out that way. She gets captured.
Suddenly, she became a damsel in distress, like she had no agency anymore. And I was like, ‘It’s not sitting well with me. I don't feel like this is who we've been creating.’ So they went away and they eventually came back with this version. And I was like, “This is dope!” Because Yo-Yo maintains her agency, and she saves her damn self, but she can't do it by herself. Her folk come through, they support her, and they all get it done together. But I love that moment because it really does speak to, you know, how Black women save the day. We always do. We’re saving the world, but we don't want to do it alone. We can't do it alone. And so to have the men come up behind and finish the job, I thought that was a really beautiful moment. And then as far as centering it all around her hair, you see in the film where they're literally bombarding the Black woman with Eurocentric ideals of beauty and making her believe she’s not beautiful. And so for that to be ripped off like, "I gotcha! You thought I was going to relax it or whatever, but nah!" I thought it was dope in so many ways. 

Black women save the day. We always do. We’re saving the world, but we don't want to do it alone. We can't do it alone.

teyonah parris
It was such a funny moment, but there’s poignancy to it as well. We see a Black woman shedding the weight of white supremacy and embracing her natural hair. John, you're laughing. What did you think of that moment? 
JB: I loved it! I didn’t know that there was another version. But it made sense for Yo-Yo and how she is. It was great to see. It almost came across as if you got captured on purpose, that it was part of larger thinking. Like, did she do this on purpose? Did she Rambo it? [laughs].
TP:  I think Yo-Yo was just struggling, like, grasping at straws trying to come up with something. I don't think she thought that far ahead.
JB: I love how everyone reacted in the audience, especially the women. They were like ‘Wooo, yeah girl!’ It got a mad reaction. I was just like, Yeah, man, you should be able to rock your natural shit sometimes. And that's cool. You should have full control of the buffet, however you want to look. But it was nice to see the women, in that sense, see that as a powerful and empowering moment. I compare it to Sarah Jakes, T.D. Jakes’ church [laughs]. 
TP: Of course you do [laughs].
JB: When I saw it, I was there clapping like, “Alright! Let the spirit take control!” It was nice. 
TP: In all seriousness, in our film, you're dealing with the government. They're white people in this case who think they know us. You think that you can pinpoint who we are and exactly what these characters are doing and going to do, but you missed the most obvious thing a Black person would already know. Slick says earlier in the script, “I will snatch that wig off your head!” Everybody knew that that was not Yo-Yo’s hair, but you are using your own standards and ideals and completely missing the culture all together. And we use it against you. Yo-Yo uses it against them. 
There are a lot of takeaways from the message of the film. There’s gentrification, the commodification of Blackness, or this idea that Blackness is one thing that people can pinpoint. There’s systemic injustice in there. What’s the one thing that you most want people to take away from the film?
TP: I would hope that people just leave the theater having these sorts of discussions. To me, it’s really about choice. What do we have a choice in? What don't we have a choice in? Sometimes in these cycles of destruction, cycles of poverty, cycles of trauma, we're made to think that we have a choice, but in reality, there's larger things at hand that are like “Actually, okay, if I have a choice, it's still between A and B, because those are the only things that are being made available to me.” Yeah, I have a choice, but it wasn't like many other options were there. You're literally limiting what's available to these communities in order to control them. So I hope that people leave talking about the socioeconomic cycles that are there. And I also just hope that they're entertained. I hope that people will have conversations about the fun, kind of weird stuff and combing through the different types of conspiracy theories. 

To me, [They Cloned Tyrone] is really about choice. What do we have a choice in? What don't we have a choice in? Sometimes in these cycles of destruction, cycles of poverty, cycles of trauma, we're made to think that we have a choice, but in reality, there's larger things at hand.

john boyega
JB: I hope they are entertained. I hope they have fun. And at the same time, I think this movie promotes nuanced thinking. You’ve got a pimp, a prostitute, and a drug dealer. Sometimes because of those job roles, people go, “Oh, that's that, and that's that.” Even when we take in the news, they will edit the story down, make it to 10 seconds so it's easier for us to digest. And sometimes we carry that into life. When we see people from all walks of life, we see people with different paths, we just go, “That means that, and that means that.” It's actually really a trauma defense, because once you get into the complexities, the nuance, that this is Yo-Yo’s job but separate from that, she is also intelligent — those things can coexist. It kind of makes the world harder for people to digest. But this movie in itself just makes you sit there and go, “You know, I started this movie with the stereotypes and now I'm seeing the details.” I hope that there’s a combination of those reactions. 
I want to get into the ending and that last scene. John, is Tyrone going to have his own uprising? What was that about? 
JB: I don't even know, to be honest. [laughs] I'll be real. I won’t lie. I don't even know why they called it They Cloned Tyrone when it was just that little snippet. But I love it. I love Juel’s strange weirdness that made sense to me. It’s funny, after the screening, my agent said to me, “Would you do an LA one?” And I actually said to Juel when we were filming, “Look, we can go to London and do a thing. France, Germany, we can hit all of those!” [laughs]. But there is a promise of an expansion in that little last bit. Watching it a second time, there’s Yo-Yo’s plan to go to Memphis. You can see the Scooby-Doo gang going from state to state. That would be fun.
Does Yo-Yo get to live that happily ever after in Memphis? What does that look like for her?
TP: I think she's happy, but I think Slick annoys the hell out of her. You know, he’s there.  And they are a love/hate situation. But I think ultimately, since she was right, and we've figured it all out, I think they're a good team. And so I do think she's living her version of happy.I hope she's living out her dreams. 
Would both of you do a sequel? 
JB: Yeah, I would. 
TP: Absolutely. 
What’s one conspiracy theory that you totally believe in? 
JB: UFOs. Like Juel said at the premiere, mathematically, they out there. I just think they look at earth and they go, “Yeah, I’m alright.”
TP: They’re a hot mess. Let’s move on. [laughs]. I feel like there’s a bit of truth in all of these conspiracy theories. I don’t really doubt any of them, but I don’t 100% believe all of them. I’m just not going to mess with it. That’s none of my business. 
JB: Some celebrities actually could be alive. 
JB: No, not Pac. But there have been wealthy individuals who fake their own death. It’s a whole process. Some guy “died,” but he was out there enjoying his life. Got the insurance policy, moved on. His whole family was in on it. 
TP: Do we hold him for that? 
JB: I don’t hold him for it. Sometimes, you’ve got to stop the game. [laughs]
TP: It’s hard out here! 
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. They Cloned Tyrone is streaming now on Netflix.

More from Movies

R29 Original Series