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A Review of “Coming 2 America: The Princess Remix”

 


By Stephane Dunn | @DrStephaneDunn | with thanks to NewBlackMan (in Exile)

 

Friday, March 12, 2021.

 

So, here’s the thing, movie magic can strike twice, but it’s rare. If an original movie achieves cult-like affection and fame, any sequel is burdened with being the follow up expected to recapture the charm of the first yet stand uniquely on its own. This is what Coming 2 America (2021) directed by Craig Brewer with several screenwriters, including Kenya Barris (Blackish) as well as original Coming to America writers David Sheffield and Barry W. Blaustein, confronts thirty-three years after its 1988 predecessor.  The original became an instant classic, starring Eddie Murphy, Arsenio Hall, Sharie Headley, James Earl Jones, John Amos, and Madge Sinclair. Murphy understood this hence some of his reluctance to consent to doing a sequel before now. 

It’s likely that a few unspoken dynamics came to bear in the remake decision, including the times. In those thirty years, we finally saw a Black Panther movie, a box office juggernaut that put the fictional, self-sufficient wealthy African nation [Wakanda], Afrocentrism, and the complicated ties between the African world and Black America center stage. On its heels several years later came Covid and Black Lives Matter protests in the streets. 

 

The relief of the Coming 2 America sequel rumor and anticipation comes after a defining 2020 year of reckoning and a vastly different entertainment scene. We don’t have big movie premieres at theatres where we sit elbow to elbow, hoping in unison before the first scene rolls, and when it’s over, exhaling together, exhilarated or deflated, as we compare notes with people we know, and some strangers made less so through the shared experience.   

At home as the credits came on, I received a flurry of phone texts asking, which do you think is better, the first Coming to America or the sequel? It isn’t as straightforward as the question might suggest; the original had that charm – character chemistry, fun, romance, and hilarious comedy in the midst of its more problematic implications with patriarchy in Queens, NY and Zamunda. Coming 2 America in 2021 is consciously aware of this and intentionally attempts a progressive take.

A desperate Prince turned King Akeem returns to America for a “bastard” [his word] son, Lavelle (Jermaine Fowler) to anoint as his future heir to the throne while ignoring his more than capable and wise eldest daughter Princess Meeka (KiKi Layne). We see the influence of the exciting women generals in Black Panther as she and her two younger sister princesses are introduced as outspoken, skilled martial arts warriors.    

The long-awaited sequel is undermined by the “A” story direction instead of a more visionary one that could have reinvigorated the magic and made it uniquely distinctive and memorable. When his father King Jaffa (James Earl Jones) laments his impending death with Prince Akeem having only daughters and no grandson to someday rule, he reveals that Prince Akeem has a son in Queens conceived while he was drugged in a one-night stand. Now at the risk of being a downer, is it okay to trivialize crossing the line between sexual assault and consent because it’s the guy whose taken advantage of in a scene intended as a hilarious flashback? 

What follows is a drive-by quick repeat of Prince Akeem’s original story. His newly discovered son falls in love with the wrong right woman, his Zamundian barber Miremba (Nomzamo Mbatha), after agreeing to marry the live-to-please-her-husband royal daughter of a warring Zumanda neighbor, King Izzi (Wesley Snipes). The romance of Lavelle and Mirembe doesn’t get the cute enough dance towards their falling for each other that in turn makes us fall in love with them as we do with Lisa and Akeem in the original. 

 

The sequel unnecessarily recycles the original plot with a Black Panther-esque note or two, [undiscovered Black American kin returns as misfit heir to the throne] when it could have easily taken the fresher direction and allowed the story to be the eldest daughter’s quest. I evaded the text questions about the new Coming 2 America versus the original and indulged in some fantasy story revision. After all, I was at home in pajamas on the couch, so this stood in for after movie chatter at the theatre. 

What if Meeka, amply played by an arresting Layne, rebelled against the gender status quo? Fed up with her father’s adherence to Zumanda’s archaic law that only men can rule, she takes off for America inspired by her father King Akeem’s journey. Only her quest isn’t for a groom. She seeks freedom from such restrictive patriarchal boundaries and the realization of her ambition and leadership skills.  

And yeah, what if she unexpectedly found love too [it is a romantic comedy] while kicking sexism’s butt in America some too along the way then returned triumphantly to Zamunda to save her country by kicking King Izzi’s butt literally and negotiating like a chess master? 

 

Just fantasizing mind you, but imagine Leslie Jones, who provides most of what feels like fresher moments of humor, let loose as a self-made, still raunchy, liberated Queens ally to Meeka instead of Lavelle’s baby mama and back-in-the-day “ho” [film’s word not mine]? 

 

It’s still an exciting deal anticipating a who’s who Black cast assembled on screen as we get with Snipes, Morgan Freeman, Tracey Morgan, Jones, John Amos and Murphy himself, etc., and the sequel need not upset our nostalgic love for the original film. Coming to America tapped into our cinematic yearnings in the late 80s just four years before the Rodney King beating came to define another turbulent decade of racism and violence. 

 

Movie sequels stand in part on their own or not despite, and because of the historical weight and the unique historical period in which they are released. I wouldn’t and can’t presume to answer for legions of Coming to America fans which film might rock for them more. Most will watch at home on diverse devices alone or in limited company, a still newish reality for a film that would’ve certainly brought mega lines outside of movie theaters. Coming 2 America coming out right now is more than a return to a cultural phenomena; for many, the remake registers as an even bigger personal thing.

 ***

Stephane Dunn is a writer, filmmaker, and professor. She earned her MA, MFA, and Ph.D. from the University of Notre Dame. Her writings appear in Ms., Vogue.com, CNN.com, and others. She speaks frequently about gender and race particularly in film and popular culture. She is the author of the book,  Baad Bitches & Sassy Supermamas: Black Power Action Films. Her screenplay Chicago ’66 has been selected as the Finish Line Screenwriting competition’s inaugural Tirota Social Impact winner.  


A Review of “Coming 2 America: The Princess Remix”

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