In the 1990s, I watched Coming to America as a young medical student in Nigeria. I loved Eddie Murphy’s character Akeem (a common name in Nigeria) – quick wit, rakish charm, carefree — and the wealth of the African nation Zamunda, a nice contrast to typical depictions of Africa as poor.
Now, 22 years after graduation from medical school, I watched its sequel, Coming 2 America.
Like its predecessor, it’s funny and silly and has a happy ending. And I know that it’s a comedy, so we’re not supposed to take it too seriously.
But I did think about how the movie portrays Africa. Here are 6 things I loved about the African content — and 7 things I did not love. Warning: spoilers abound!
6 Things I Loved about ‘Coming 2 America’:
1. Gladys Knight’s humongous head tie. And really all the gorgeous costumes by designer Ruth E. Carter (also responsible for the Black Panther garb). But I did especially liked Gladys’ head tie. It reminds me of the head ties my Nigerian countrywomen wear to weddings and other social occasions. Pray you do not sit behind women wearing such a head tie because you surely will not see any of the goings-on. All kidding aside, the African-style garments for both men and women were colorful, diverse and representative of Africa’s many ethnicities in their colors, designs, styles, patterns and sophistication.
2. Daring daughters. King Akeem’s three daughters are trained in the art of defense and leadership. They remind me of my two daughters (Yagazie and Chimamanda) — and how my wife and I are raising them to be strong and independent. I loved the scene where Princess Meeka and her two sisters fought and overpowered General Izzi and the militants. It shows how the princesses were perfectly capable of protecting their nation when their father was off in America.
3. Green and white! Those are the colors that Princess Meeka wore when she taught King Akeem’s son how to pluck lion whiskers – and they’re the colors of Nigeria’s national flag. It was a great shout-out to Nigeria, Africa’s richest and most populous nation. As we say in Nigeria, it made me feel “proudly Naija.”
4. Nigerian music superstars! Davido, one Africa’s most influential artistes, was a headliner at the wedding party, and Tiwa Savage’s song (“Koroba”) used as a soundtrack. Seeing this made me feel “proudly Naija” again.
5. Speaking truth about power. The gigantic edifice which served as the palace of the king in the movie reminds me of Nigeria’s seat of power – Aso Rock, which is a fortress tucked away in a forest-like location. I wish Aso Rock was more accessible. So the makers of the movie got it right by depicting how some African leaders are out of touch with their citizens.
6. Power to the princess. In the end, King Akeem ended gender discrimination in the royal family and declared that Princess Meeka would be the heir to the throne and not his newly discovered son in America. If I was in King Akeem’s position, I would have taken the same decision.
7 Things I Did Not Love:
1. Exotic wildlife on parade. For crying out loud, we do not have wild animals running around our backyards in Africa!! Urbanization is happening at a fast rate. Most homes do not even have spaces to house a few chickens!!
2. Bad barbershop joke. Playing an elderly African American barber in Queens, Eddie Murphy referred to King Akeem and his companion Semmi as “Kunta Kinte and Ebola.” It beats me why the makers of the movie thought that was hilarious. I found the statement offensive. It perpetuates the narrative that Africa is all about diseases and sufferings, and it makes a mockery of slavery.
3. Child soldiers. The militant General Izzi had underage warriors. Why use that scene if you are not going to show scenes which discourage militants from using child soldiers?
4. Female disempowerment. Mirembe, the royal groomer, stated that women are not allowed to own businesses in Zamunda. This is far off from the reality in Africa. Africa leads the world in terms of numbers of women business owners. African women make up 58% of self-employed population across the continent.
5. Fast food in Africa. Yes, we do have fast food restaurants in Africa. Nigeria, where I live even has KFC (although not McDonald’s). But I wasn’t happy to see a popular McDonald’s rip-off called McDowell in Zamunda: Unhealthy eating adds to disease burdens in Africa.
6. Nude bathing. In one scene, the African prince is bathed by women. Dear filmmakers, we are now living in the 21st century. You should not include scenes that demean and sexualize African women.
7. Fake African accents. Once again, Hollywood portrays Africa as one village with that fake accent. Featuring African movie stars would have spared Black American actors struggling to speak with a supposed African accent. To be honest, there is nothing like an African accent because Africa is a continent of 1.2 billion people who speak about 2,000 languages!