Ash has a bachelor's in English Lit. She loves analyzing fiction and obsessing over books, film, and television.
Coming 2 America is the recent sequel to the original 1988 classic Coming to America, which starred Eddie Murphy and what was basically an all-star cast for the most part.
This franchise is 30 years old, and I'm turning 35 this year (sigh), so I basically grew up seeing it on screen. I remember I actually found the original film refreshing compared to many other black movies of the day. Like all Eddie Murphy's movies, it wasn't about black people being whipped or subjugated. It showed us being normal human beings in a positive setting, and the story itself was fun, sometimes even romantic.
Now let me move on to what I loved about the sequel.
The Returning Cast
One wonderful thing about the film was seeing all the old cast members return. In fact, I think just about everyone returned except Lisa's sister, played by Allison Dean (what a shame), and Madge Sinclair, who sadly passed away in 1995.
I grew up looking at this movie, so seeing all the old actors and actresses come back was a huge part of the draw. Really, that's the whole point of a sequel: to draw on nostalgia. And I think this film pulled that aspect off well. Anyone who loved the original should love the sequel (in my opinion).
Even Imani Izzi (Vanessa Bell) returned!
In the original film, she was meant to marry Akeem and unite their countries in peace. She had been raised to mindlessly obey him from the time she was a small child. Akeem was disgusted by this, and to demonstrate his point, he commanded Imani to bark like a dog and hop on one foot, which she does immediately.
In Coming 2 America, she returns, still barking and hopping, in a hilarious throwback joke. Thankfully, she is freed from the "dog curse" by Akeem, who apparently had no idea she was still carrying out his orders.
I was very happy to see Shari Headley return as Lisa McDowell, especially. She's still beautiful and still has that adorable voice thirty years later.
Her character is also still no-nonense and never lies down and takes Akeem's crap. One of my favorite parts of the fim is when she and Akeem (Eddie Murphy) have a huge fight and she kicks him out of the bedroom.
Akeem expresses disbelief and she says, "Am I barking and hopping on one foot?"
The Refreshing Lack of Sexism
Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall have long been criticized by the black community (black women in particular. Let's be real: black men don't care) for ridiculing and degrading black women in their comedy. So when I heard about this sequel, I was a little skeptical. In fact, I fully expected to hate it. Anyone who's familiar with my articles here would know I'm not a huge fan of sequels, either.
But when I saw this film, I loved it.
The story actually acknowledges that many of the characters from the original film were in fact sexist and creepy, and it does so in a humorous and non-preachy way, presenting said sexism as buffoonish at best (Arsenio Hall's priest in black socks), and disgusting at worst (Akeem's entire arc, which I will get to).
I thought it was pretty damn awesome. Especially since most of the story centered around Prince Akeem and his eldest daughter's desire to be queen over her half-brother, who wasn't even from Zamunda.
Prince Akeem's Entire Arc
I actually really enjoyed Prince Akeem's entire arc.
Back in the original Coming to America, Prince Akeem is a progressive prince who hates his father's sexist conservative ideas and wants to create better traditions for his people. He decides to go to New York to find a woman to fall in love with, rather than marrying someone who has been trained like a dog to obey him.
Akeem opposing his father's insistence on (sexist) traditions was the entire point of the first film's plot. Now fast forward thirty years later, and Prince Akeem still has daddy issues. When his father dies (played by James Earl Jones), it's like he suddenly becomes desperate to be the hard, sexist, tyrant of a ruler that his father wanted . . . Rather than being the good-hearted, progressive man he was before.
The king even calls Akeem "soft" while lying on his deathbed. This upsets Akeem, who sets out to prove his father wrong.
So instead of allowing his eldest daughter, Princess Meeka (Kiki Layne), to become queen and rule in her own right (as everyone had assumed he would), Prince Akeem becomes desperate to find a male heir and prove to his father that he isn't soft.
Turns out he has a son in Queens named Lavelle (Jermaine Fowler) after he was drugged by Semmi (Arsenio Hall) and tricked into sleeping with (aka raped by) a random woman named Mary (Leslie Jones).
Now this isn't to say that I believe Mary actually raped Akeem. The movie makes it clear that Semmi orchestrated the entire thing, and this is why Akeem blames him alone (and strangles him in a hilarious scene while the dying king encourages him to).
I think Semmi did this because he didn't believe Akeem would actually find a woman. In the original film, Semmi enjoyed mocking Akeem about how he was too soft, and given this, he probably didn't think much of Akeem being a virgin. To have him raped by a random woman is very much a college dude-bro thing, as if virginal men were somehow less male or less worthy.
Again, it's all just sexism, but this time it has been cast in a light that condemns it rather than celebrating it.
Mary didn't know that Akeem had been drugged and thought that he wanted what was happening. She is, in fact, a very nice person who happens to be loud and obnoxious in a way, but still likeable. (The way she shouted "My African!" when Akeem showed up was somehow so adorable.)
I find it a little amusing that, thirty years ago, Eddie Murphy would have put on a fat suit and played Mary's role. This time he allowed a real black woman to play a real black woman (not a caricature or a stereotype), sparing black women in the audience the degradation and mockery that came with his performances of old.
Leslie Jones' plays a character that is supposed to be loud and ghetto.
"Y'all know I was a ho up in these streets?"
But at the same time, she brings a certain charm to the role that a man in a dress would just be incapable of. And this is because all forms of drag are basically sexist mockery.
Yeah. I went there. BAM.
That said, let me pause here to say that Leslie Jones was pretty great as Mary.
I remember seeing her in the Ghostbusters remake years ago, and after seeing this film, I feel Ghostbusters was a waste of her talent (the role was kind of small). She really is hilarious and deserves more work.
All right. To continue my analysis of Akeem's arc . . .
At one point in the film, Akeem announces that his son, Lavelle, is going to marry the princess of the neighboring country and unite the two kingdoms. This comes as a shock to everyone, because many had been expecting Princess Meeka would be chosen as heir.
So far in the film, "Prince" Lavelle of Queens has discovered that he doesn't like being a prince. He has fallen in love with Mirembe (Nomzamo Mbatha), his royal barber and groomer, and wants to run away and marry her.
His time in Zamunda has taught him that he doesn't know anything about his fathers' country or being a prince. Meanwhile, Princess Meeka has been training to become queen her entire life, is obviously intimately familiar with her own country's history and tradition, and is far better suited for the role. So when Akeem steps forward and announces Lavelle as his heir, his children are shocked and disappointed.
After the souring dinner announcement, Lisa gets in an argument with Akeem while in their bedroom.
Akeem is still trying to live up to his dead father's expectations. He doesn't want to seem soft. He wants to be hard, cold, sexist, and conservative like his father. And after having been goaded by his own father while the man was on his deathbed, this has become something of a determination to him.
At one point, Lisa asks Akeem what happened to him. He was supposed to change Zamunda for the better, make things better for women, and instead, he was doing the exact opposite.
In the height of their argument, Akeem talks to Lisa as if she were his inferior. This is probably the first time he's ever done this in their entire thirty-year marriage. Lisa is shocked and kicks him out of the bedroom.
With his father dead and gone, Akeem doesn't know who to turn to for advice. So he heads to his father-in-law, Cleo McDowell (John Amos). They chat for a minute about King Jaffe, but since the guy was kind of an asshole, there isn't much positive to say.
Realizing this, Akeem gets up to leave. He is stopped by Cleo McDowell, who asks Akeem what his mother would say about the situation.
Akeem pauses. In his fervor to live up to his father's sexist bullshit, it hadn't occured to him to wonder what his mother would think or feel about him passing up his brilliant and intelligent and highly trained daughter just because she . . . doesn't have a penis.
In that moment, I think Akeem realizes how stupid the tradition is and what a hypocrite he's being after everything he did to defy his father in his own youth.
Akeem then runs all the way to Queens to collect his son, who has runaway to marry Mirembe. He arrives at the wedding (a very hilarious scene with Arsenio Hall leaping around in black socks in his Sexist Priest role) and offers Lavelle a role in his court as a prince, not a king.
Meanwhile, back in Zamunda, Princess Meeka and her sisters (plus Semmi) defend the country from their invading neighbors singlehandedly.
This part was a little absurd for me. Where the f*ck were the guards? Why was General Izzi (Wesley Snipes) allowed to just march into the palace fully armed so many times throughout the movie? Just absurd.
But the film got its point across: the princesses were not helpless and were perfectly capable of defending their homeland. Princess Meeka in particular proved that she would make an excellent queen.
Though to be honest, I wish she could have proven it in some way besides combat. This particular thread of the story was weak, almost like they didn't quite know how to make Princess Meeka look strong or capable, and as a result, Lavelle wound up having the stronger arc.
Princess Meeka actually helped Lavelle pass his tests to become heir and showed how clever she was in doing so. They should have done a scene where she showed a sharp, tactical mind by maneuvering troops to defend the land. What they actually did was absurd.
But whatever. The fact that they tried to show she was capable of leading is a worthy endeavor in and of itself.
I also thought the ending wrapped things up nicely.
After running off to retrieve Lavelle, Akeem returns to discover his daughter has singlehandedly defend the country in his absence. He apologizes to Princess Meeka and accepts her as his heir.
I thought the movie could have benefitted from more scenes between Akeem and his daughters. But I think that's part of the story: Akeem is so obsessed with trying to live up to his father's sexist traditions that he completely ignores his daughters in favor of his son.
The movie then ends with Eddie Murphy reprising his old Sexual Chocolate gag, which was somehow more funny than the original movie.
All in all, this movie was pretty damn great for a sequel. I laughed so many times!
Watch it free on Amazon Prime!