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Cleopatra Jones

January 2, 2013

While Pam Grier emerges as the prominent actress of the "black exploitation era" in American film for her roles in films like Foxy Brown and Coffy, we would like to assert that none of Grier's roles were as empowering or classic as Tamara Dobson's turn as Cleopatra Jones.

Fully clothed and legitimately imposing, Cleopatra Jones is a U.S. special agent assigned to and personally invested in eradicating drug trafficking in the black community. Unlike Grier in many of her starring roles, Dobson's Jones never had to use sex appeal to take down a dealer or, as in the case of the film's main villain, a kingpin (played with creepy and campy relish by Shelley Winters). She used martial arts, firearms, verbal intimidation, and downright fist-fighting to get the job done.

The film's most recognizable costars were mainstays of Black '70s film including Bernie Casey as Cleo's paramour and Antonio Fargas as Doodlebug, a lower-level drug peddler.

Produced and written by fellow Blaxploitation actor, Max Julien, and directed by Jack Sterrett, Cleopatra Jones was popular enough to warrant a sequel, but when the second film was released two years later with none of the original filmmakers behind the scene and none of the charming stars (save Dobson herself) in front of the camera, audiences considered the venture an extreme disappointment. Cleopatra Jones and the Casino of Gold was critically panned.

If you haven't already, check out the original, which is available on DVD and compare it to some of the Grier mainstays of the same era. Decide for yourself which roles stand the tests of time.

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