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Coming 2 America: The trouble with Zamunda

By Dami Ajayi
Posted on Friday, 26 March 2021 12:19

Coming 2 America poster (Twitter/@PrimeVideo)

In 'Coming 2 America', the sequel to the classic rom-com 'Coming to America', two new characters discuss the rationale (or lack thereof) of sequels in Hollywood movies.

In Coming 2 America, the sequel to the classic rom com Coming to America, two new characters discuss the rationale (or lack thereof) of sequels in Hollywood movies.

It is a mid-summer type scene between two would-be lovers bantering and about to fall in love. It is a hilarious film poking fun at its own production.

It would seem the movie, directed by Craig Brewster (also director of Dolemite Is My Name), is agreeing with this outraged fan of the original, who is sitting at the edge of his sofa, staring at the Amazon Prime Video app and wondering if there is any point to this sequel.

Released in 1988, Coming to America was a complete masterpiece with a major cult following that continues to relish its modern fairy tale and memorable characters.

Why ruin a good thing?

Perhaps it is a Hollywood imperative to revisit classics for lucre but Coming 2 America, a sequel released at least 30 years after the original movie, feels like a study in dismantling nostalgia.

A counter-argument is that the world has gone through a pandemic and is in dire need of laughter—but isn’t it staggering that Coming 2 America premiered the same weekend that Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s tell-it-all interview with Oprah Winfrey aired?

The Bastard Son Premise

The opening scene of Coming 2 America returns us to Zamunda where King Jaffe Joffer (played by James Earl Jones) is dying.

Akeem (Eddie Murphy), the heir to the throne, and his wife Lisa (heir to the McDonald’s knock-off, McDowell’s) have been blissfully married for 30 years and have three daughters.

The Zamunda tradition requires that a male heir take over the throne and it is revealed to Akeem by Baba – the royal witch doctor played by Arsenio Hall – that Akeem sired a bastard son after a drug-induced, one-night stand in New York while on his quest to find true love.

This is the movie’s premise; it introduces a slew of new characters — Jermaine Fowler as Lavelle Johnson (the ‘bastard’ son), Leslie Jones as his mother and Tracy Morgan as his Uncle Reem.

Wesley Snipes is exceptionally hilarious with his signature entrance as General Izzie – military dictator of Nexdoria, Zamunda’s neighbouring country and brother to Akeem’s betrothed in the original film. Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall reprise their multiple roles in this romantic comedy as the cast of the Barber shop and soul singer Randy Watson.

Zamunda or Wakanda?

Fictional African countries, especially those imagined from outside the continent, are often problematic — and this is Coming 2 America’s major flaw. Zamunda has remained prosperous in what appears to be a pre-colonial bubble where royals indulge in stick-fighting with their children before breakfast and princes tweeze the whiskers of malnourished lions to display courage. The original film was spared this shaky premise of Zamunda as more screen time was spent on poverty and deprivation in 1980s New York.

Conversely, Coming 2 America luxuriates in the palace at Zamunda (read current Rick Ross or former Evander Holyfield’s Atlanta Mansion) relying on the spectacle of a prosperous African kingdom and its thriving monarchy to beef up excess screen time occasioned by a flimsy plot.

There were one too many scenes displaying royal pageantry including royal funerary rites performed while King Jaffe Joffer is alive!

It would seem the purpose of Coming 2 America is parodying the original film. Zamunda, in full glare, is reminiscent of Black Panthers’ Wakanda, another fictional African country also powered by the African American imaginary.

It does not help that Oscar-winning Ruth E. Carter was at the helm of costume design for both films: Black Panther and Coming 2 America. Wakanda, however fares better, perhaps on account of memorable performances of an incredible cast led by the late Chadwick Boseman as King T’Challa.

Rhythms of Zamunda

The original soundtrack of Coming 2 America is its redemption: an anthology of carefully selected musicians (with lead single by Grammy winner Megan Thee Stallion) from both America and Africa at the heights of their powers.

NPR’s ‘Tiny Desk Concert’ series recently released Sounds of Zamunda, a 19-minute set of the original songs from Coming to America, performed live by musicians from South Africa, Togo, Cameroon and Nigeria.

South African rapper Nasty C’s duet with Ari Lennox on Black and White is phenomenal; ditto for the Togo duo – Toofan – whose Ye Mama is both a tribute to Congolese Soukous and its flamboyant dance choreography.

Nigerian musician Davido also appears in the film performing his hit love-song Assurance, which is in huge demand at wedding receptions. This is a major nod to Afrobeats and it is reminiscent of Juju Music’s brief foray into America in the 80s when King Sunny Ade performed Penkele in the American teen comedy, O.C and Stiggs.

30 years later, Eddie Murphy’s imaginary African accent may not have aged well but the rhythms of Zamunda have.

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