Prove your humanity

I am trying to remember the first time I watched the first Instalment of Coming to America, but I am failing. All I know is that my dad was probably the same age I am right now the year it came out. Now, 33 years later, and after watching the 2 trailers on YouTube, I finally decided to subscribe to Amazon Prime (having no other choice as it is exclusively available on that streaming platform).

It’s been a while now since the release, and my brother and I are trying to work out our schedule for a time to watch the sequel (p.s. we haven’t had a movie time for probably over 3 years and we have been living together for a year now). I’m done practicing some DJ mixes with my friend Ayuba, and now I get on the couch waiting for my brother before I press play. While patiently waiting, I have mixed feelings and hope that this sequel is a film that might at least try to depict the African culture without using the same usual approach that is used in every other Hollywood film.

Image Credit: Vital Thrills

Anyone who hasn’t seen the first instalment of Coming to America would probably find this sequel awkward and would try too hard to relate to some of its scenes. We are presently in a generation where comedy is apparently perceived differently than it was 33 years ago. Eddie Murphy was arguably one of the biggest comedy stars during his era and any comedy piece performed or presented by him would with no doubt immediately give you a laugh out loud with no holding back. But it’s 2021 now: it takes a whole lot more to invoke laughter in people’s bodies—things have changed. This could be seen in the opening scene of the movie when Prince Akeem of Zamunda (Murphy), now a middle-aged man and his wife Lisa (Shari Headley) are being awakened with greetings by their three beautiful daughters on their anniversary. While in contrast to the first movie, Prince Azeem was very much single and was instead awakened by his three naked, beautiful female attendants. Immediately what this scene indicates is how Prince Akeem has grown into a mature family man in these years. But only the viewers who have been lucky to witness a similar scene in the very first movie would be blessed to notice the changes and aim. New viewers of the franchise may find it unentertaining and weird. I think what the filmmakers tried to do was to create a sequel specifically for their pre-existing fans and give them a good laugh that only they can relate to—a move that was only averagely achieved and failed to win over new fans.

A week before watching the sequel, I re-watched the original. And though I still find it very much interesting, I realised that I struggled to relate to the comedic aspect of it; perhaps my taste in what is perceived as comedy has changed throughout the years. Maybe I only found it funny years ago because that was a different era, and presently the genre is much deeper with a variety of new sub-genres for a different audience.

Most of the scenes in Coming 2 America are based on the scenes from the first movie which would make no sense to those who haven’t seen it. A good thing about this is that they were able to tie up loose ends from storylines from the original. It was the perfect excuse for the filmmakers to infuse or recreate old clips, scenes and stories that failed to make it into the first movie. It is hilarious to see that even after 33 years, General Izzi’s (Wesley Snipes) sister (who was previously betrothed to Akeem) still barks like a dog when commanded—one of the funniest scenes in the original, but wacky and uncomfortable for a new audience.

You can’t help but compare the sequel to its predecessor. In fact, there are so many similarities between the two that at times it feels as if they blend together. One could most likely watch both films back-to-back and wouldn’t feel the fact that they were filmed at different times. In Coming to America, both Akeem and his close friend and adviser Semmi (Arsenio Hall) took to the U.S to find a bride to bring back home to Zamunda. Now, in Coming 2 America, after worries about the lack of a male heir to the Zamunda throne, he learns from his dying father that he has an illegitimate son, Lavelle (Jermaine Fowler). So now, both Akeem and Semmi embark on another journey to Queens, this time to find the young man that would take his place as first in line to the throne.

One good thing about the film is the family resemblance between Lavelle and Akeem. In the first film, Akeem goes against his father’s wishes of marrying Izzi’s sister and gets his way by marrying Lisa. Now, history repeats itself as Lavelle—who is betrothed to Izzi’s daughter (Teyana Taylor) in order for peace to reign in both kingdoms—follows the lead of his father and falls for his royal barber (South African star, Nomzamo Mbatha). It was good to witness this ‘like father like son’ aspect, and even though it is a significant emotional part of the story, it just feels like the filmmakers looked at the old script and just decided to rewrite it. The visuals and time period have changed, but the story remains the same. If one pays close attention to Coming 2 America, you can see that what makes the sequel good is sometimes also what makes it worse.

The film feels stuck in the time of its predecessor. The filmmakers failed to update and properly research the perspectives of Africans on America—and vice versa. Though it is sweet to see that they try to celebrate African culture again, it is clear that they have little to no knowledge of their history, what makes them unique and, most importantly, what it means to be from an African Royal family (or even what it means to be from an African kingdom). The Kingdom of Zamunda feels like too much fiction and fantasy—though it might seem believable for non-Africans. But the fictional take could be considered ignorant from the point of view of some Africans. Though the filmmakers tried to be respectful, it seems they tried too hard by mixing different cultures of different African countries. In terms of production design, it is clear that much of the budget was spent on making sure the film was visually pleasing with costumes and props that are of modern African styles. The result is a tribute to the African culture and its people—something which is quite exciting to see.

In sum, Coming 2 America is not quite a sequel or even a remake. It feels much more like an opportunity for the filmmakers to cash in on the franchise’s fame. It’s also a way for Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall to reunite with the rest of the original cast, as well as feature new faces and famous names. Rick Ross (who played General Izzi’s soldier), Congolese American former professional basketball player, Dikembe Mutombo and many others make appearances in the sequel. The highlight of the cameos was a performance from Nigerian superstar, Davido—an appearance which showcases how much of an influence Afrobeats has had in the western culture, and how it has grown in recent years. One thing that is certain is that the black Americans’ ideas of the life and culture of Africa are comedic ones. It’s hard to decipher if this misconception is just regarding the African culture and its people, or the continent as a whole and the countries within it. And whilst this film creates room for that debate, it might not be one most people are ready to have a conversation about. Especially if they just want to enjoy the laughs.


You can watch the Trailer to Coming 2 America here!