“I want a woman that will arouse my intellect as well as my loins.”
That phrase sparked Eddie Murphy’s Prince Akeem of Zamunda to head to the United States to find a wife in no other place than Queens, New York, in the wildly popular comedy, “Coming To America” back in 1988. With the help of his quick-witted sidekick, Arsenio Hall’s Semmi, the royal prince’s adventure turned into one of the most beloved comedies to ever come out of pop culture. The impact of the film is still so prevalent that the first question asked at the moderated press roundtable for the cast starring in the second installment of the series dropping on Amazon Prime this Friday was: What was your favorite part or line from the first film? The answers varied, but the laughter and smiles from the whole cast were all energetically similar.
“Coming 2 America” brings mostly everyone (and I mean everyone) back from the first film, along with a few new characters. Murphy’s Prince Akeem found his princess back in the 80s and after 30 years and three daughters, he now learns that a one-night stand had blessed him with a grown son—who is also now the rightful heir to the throne. It’s that mix of old and new that blends the perfect marriage of nostalgic comedy with fresh humor straight from the actors who grew up with it themselves.
“We had the original cast here to give us the support and the guidance. When we followed the expectations, we got a thumbs-up,” says Tracy Morgan who plays Reem, the uncle of Prince Akeen’s long-lost son (played by Jermaine Fowler.) “They gave us that quiet confidence to let us know we were on the right path.”
For other new actors taking on roles, being a part of the film meant so much more than just joining in on a cast of incredible talent. It also meant achieving a long-awaited dream on-screen to influence a new generation.
“For me, it was also important because the film wasn’t going to Queens. It was coming to Zamunda,” says Nomzamo Mbatha who plays the regal/royal groomer, Marimbe, in the film. “So it was about what I—as an African woman—am able to bring in terms of the nuances, in terms of the truth, and rooting it in so much texture and culture and seeing ourselves just … I mean, Mirembe’s witty. She’s smart. She’s sassy. She also brings a lot of grounding, and that’s the thing about comedy that we never give credit to. Comedy, there’s so much drama. There’s so much human connection that we can truly, truly learn. So I’m really just excited for everyone, every Brown girl, every little girl around the world to just see themselves, to hear themselves through the central theme.”
That transferred to mean a lot to most of the cast, both old and new. While in the discussion, many of the actors spoke on how this movie back in 1988 played a massive role in their own identity. Some who worked on the film back in the ’80s also spoke about how the original film was one of the first times they worked on a set with a majority of Black actors and crew. It also gives a great ode to women, and the second installment is no different (just ask Wesley Snipes how he felt after his final scene).
“There were no weak women in the original. All the women were majestic, from the flower girls to everything, and there [are] no weak women in this one,” explains comedian Luenell, who also says that the female fight scenes in “Black Panther” and “Coming 2 America” definitely show off some girl power for the Black community and beyond.
The veteran actors who were involved with the original film’s presence and the effect it had hold similar sentiments. They also attribute that success to the mastermind behind the project.
“My opinions of ‘Coming to America,’ the original, have been echoed by so many people that it was an incredible experience,” says John Amos, who played Cleo McDowell, the proud proprietor of McDowell’s, a Queens fast food restaurant, in the film. “The choreography, the costumes, the script, and of course, the fact that you had Eddie Murphy, who for my money is a consummate actor, comedian. It all came together in a wondrous way and quite frankly, I’m doubtful that we’ll be able to repeat that success to that degree. But then again with Eddie, we might even do better. I don’t know how it’s possible. I don’t know how any actor can mention his name without realizing that this is a genius. This is a master of comedy, drama, the whole nine yards, those transitions that he makes between characters from the film to film are just astounding. And quite frankly, I’m in awe of the man.”
During the ’80s, when the first film debuted, it was also one of the most electrifying highs Murphy would have in his career alongside other hits “48 Hrs.,” “Trading Places” and “Beverly Hills Cop.” Though audiences and actors alike consider him to be a “genius,” Murphy was away from the spotlight for quite some time. Lately though, he’s made a triumphant return with his 2019 biopic, “Dolemite Is My Name,” where viewers get to see him transform into many different characters— a calling card of the comedian in most of his films including the “Coming to America” series.
So how does Murphy feel of the legacy of the movie?
“The original ‘Coming to America’ — the very first one — is the first movie in the history of movies that had an all-Black cast that was successful all around the world. All around the world, the very first one ever. And there’s just a handful of movies that have had all-Black casts that have been successful all around the world,” Murphy says.
Murphy, along with the creators of this timelessly funny film and an equally entertaining sequel, have seen the effects the comedy has had on audiences. From modern-day references to stars using catchphrases from the movie, to people still dressing up as characters on Halloween, the series of films show that comedy can be just as influential as it is enjoyable.
“That’s indicative of the fact that ‘Coming to America’ became a cult film. So that’s just one aspect of one of the things that started out in ‘Coming to America’ that’s in the culture now. Questlove has a band called the Randy Watson Experience. People say s**t like “sexual chocolate”; that became a catchphrase. The mic drop, the mic drop—the very first mic drop is Randy Watson. On Halloween, people get dressed up as characters from the movie. And VH1 played ‘Coming to America’ 24 hours straight over Christmas. It’s a cult film, and all that stuff is part of it.”
“Coming 2 America” will be released globally on Prime Video on March 5.