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This weekend we ain’t watching: ‘Coming 2 America’

This weekend we ain’t watching: ‘Coming 2 America’
Eddie Murphy stars in COMING 2 AMERICA Photo: Quantrell D. Colbert © 2020 Paramount Pictures

The cast of Eddie Murphy’s iconic 1988 comedy ‘Coming to America’ is back for an extravagant Afro-phobic sequel being released on Friday on Amazon Prime.

Eddie Murphy is a Russian roulette. If you’re lucky you’ll get profane babbling stand-up or a lovable talking donkey. If you’re unlucky you’ll get fat-suits, fart jokes and blatant sexism and homophobia.

Murphy was already famous in the early 80s, having caught the public’s attention as a cast member on Saturday Night Live. In 1988, he starred in Coming to America (available on Netflix) as Prince Akeem of Zamunda (a fictitious African country) who on his 21st birthday travels to the borough of Queens in New York in search of his perfect bride.

It was slow and predictable; the African characters were acted stiffly with American accents, and it was filled with cultural stereotypes about Africa that would make the modern progressive cringe. Prince Akeem was the most subdued character Murphy had played to date, so there was none of his witty, outrageous jabbering that the public had come to expect and love. We didn’t get particularly lucky with this one.

But Murphy did. Coming to America smashed the box office, was a huge milestone in his career and became an iconic film, both for him and in terms of African American cinema.

Murphy had been getting flak from other black Hollywood giants, particularly Spike Lee, for not having used his fame to create opportunity for African Americans. Coming to America was a reaction to that, with an entirely black cast (but for one white guy who Paramount pictures forced in) which included Arsenio Hall, James Earl Jones and Samuel L Jackson. It was also the film that made Murphy famous for playing multiple roles simultaneously.

Thirty years later, the cast is back for a sequel: Coming 2 America, reportedly one of the biggest films of 2021. It’s got a star-spangled cast, a budget of R880-million, a sales deal with Amazon for almost R2-billion, and as much depth as the shallow end of a half-deflated kiddie pool.

Coming 2 America

The sequel begins with the same over-the-top royal splendour as its predecessor. The sets are grand and the lavish, extravagant costume design is the film’s only shot at an Oscar. Coming 2 America is more of a spectacle or a pageant than a film. It plods along predictably with a staccato strut, going mostly nowhere, in order to find its way to disjointed, showy scenes around which the whole film seems to have been accessorised.

It boasts fun and flashy flurries of cameo appearances by iconic black actors and musicians (including one of our very own) partly as a tribute to the legacy of the 1988 film and partly just because it can. It definitely taps into the nostalgia for the original movie, and there are some quirky Easter eggs for those who remember it. Just as before, Murphy plays several roles at once, and his gimmicky side-characters, one-dimensional as they may be, are more entertaining than his primary role as Prince Akeem, which falls outside his comfort zone.

Coming 2 America is a pretty standard feel-good glitzy rom-com – it’s an easy, glamorous Cinderella story with South African actress Nomzamo Mbatha as the love interest. If you’re into that sort of thing it should do fine. The film’s main obstacle is that it can’t decide whether or not to take itself seriously and it falls flat whenever it does because of its bafflingly immature politics and oafish portrayal of Africa.

Arsenio Hall, Jermaine Fowler and Eddie Murphy star in COMING 2 AMERICA Photo: Quantrell D. Colbert © 2020 Paramount Pictures

KiKi Layne and Eddie Murphy star in COMING 2 AMERICA Photo: Quantrell D. Colbert
© 2020 Paramount Pictures

Murphy’s affected generic “African” accent has slightly improved. The same cannot be said for the rest of the original cast whose stilted performances as Zamundans are embarrassing to watch.

Zamunda is supposed to be a black fairy tale utopia, an African country untouched by poverty. It’s reminiscent of Wakanda in Black Panther, which is even referenced in a joke, but unlike Wakanda, which is a feminist Afrocentric technological powerhouse, Zamunda is just a parody of a corrupt, sexist African monarchy that happens to have a fair bit of money.

The sexist, backwards cultural practices of Zamunda are so farcical and mocking that one wonders whether the screenplay writers think African children ride to school on giraffes. The film deals with the repression of women in such a patronising, elementary way that it feels sexist and Afro-phobic.

Akeem’s politics have actually gone backwards since the first movie, and all of his character development this time around amounts to his renouncing the same backwards traditions he renounced in the beginning of the first film, which is our cue to give him a pat on the back and a gold star for not being a sexist, corrupt demagogue. Good job! He is African after all, right? What more can we expect?

Much of the humour in the 1988 film came from cultural clashing, a popular theme in American comedies like Moscow on the Hudson, You Don’t Mess with the Zohan, or Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat, Bruno and The Dictator. These films send up the futile attempts of foreign countries and immigrants to emulate American culture while simultaneously sending up America itself by embodying an Ignorant American caricature of what other countries are like.

The mistake Coming 2 America makes in 2021 is that it flips this formula around. While the 1988 film was about a Zamundan prince finding love in the bizarre country that is America, this time it’s about his American son finding love in the bizarre country of Zamunda. Setting the film in Zamunda turns the entire film into a joke at Africa’s expense.

In 1988, audiences were fairly forgiving of Coming to America’s political incorrectness, partly because of ignorance, partly because people were used to it and partly because any movie with Eddie Murphy and an all-black cast was going to get some love. Today, people know a little better and expect a little more. DM/ML

Coming 2 America is available for streaming in South Africa on Amazon Prime. The Original 1988 film Coming to America is available in South Africa on Netflix.
You can contact This Weekend We’re Watching via [email protected]

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • A Z says:

    Boy, what a long-winded way to say ‘it ain’t funny, don’t waste your time’. I could have told you as much from watching the trailer.

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