“Coming 2 America” Makes its Triumphant Return


An inside look with director Craig Brewer on Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall’s triumphant return with “Coming 2 America.” (Courtesy of Instagram)

After 30 years, Eddie Murphy’s beloved Prince Akeem has made his long-awaited return to America. “Coming 2 America,” the highly-anticipated sequel of the 1988 hit comedy “Coming To America,” arrives on Amazon Prime Video on March 5. The film was initially scheduled to release in theaters on Dec. 18, 2020, but the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing protocols pushed its debut to the small screen. 

The majority of the “Coming To America” cast returned for the sequel, but the film did have a change in direction. While John Landis directed the first film, director Craig Brewer took control of the sequel. Brewer is no stranger to comedy, and he even worked with Murphy just two years ago in “Dolemite Is My Name.” I had the opportunity to interview him in a roundtable interview and get an inside look at “Coming 2 America.”

“I think it was a great opportunity to have this movie done thirty years later,” Brewer said. “I hope that people feel that we’re trying to do things that the people who loved the first movie would want us to do.” The film’s story also picks up 30 years after the original “Coming To America” in Zamunda, the fictional African kingdom, where Prince Akeem and the love of his life, Lisa McDowell (Shari Headley), reside. Akeem and Lisa now have three daughters named Meeka (Kiki Layne), Omma (Bella Murphy) and Tinashe (Akiley Love). However, their family is about to get a whole lot bigger.

Akeem’s ailing father, King Jaffe Joffer (James Earl Jones), reveals that Akeem has a long-lost son that must claim his place as heir to the throne and maintain the male bloodline. The son’s presence will protect Zamunda from the looming threat of Nextdoria, a power-hungry nation led by a vengeful General Izzi (Wesley Snipes). Desperate to find his son, please his dying father and avoid a potential assassination attempt, a blindsided Prince Akeem and his best friend Semmi (Arsenio Hall) make their way back to “the land of Queens.” There, they meet Lavelle Junson (Jermaine Fowler), who turns out to be Akeem’s son. Akeem and Semmi successfully convince Lavelle to travel back to Zamunda with his mother Mary (Leslie Jones) and Uncle Reem (Tracy Morgan) in tow. Hijinks inevitably ensue upon their return as Lavelle figures out whether he’s fit for the throne or not.

Not many sequels can capture the magic of their preceding film, yet “Coming 2 America” absolutely succeeds in doing so. It’s a satisfying follow-up that manages to both expand the Zamunda universe and touch upon current issues. 

A goal of Brewer’s for the film involved bringing together both the original and newer fanbases. “We’re hoping that what we can bring to this movie is something that the core audience is dealing with in their life,” Brewer explained. “Maybe it’s time for some of us ‘old-heads’ to stop talking about the way things used to be and start listening to our kids and being okay with change.” This idea is evident in Prince Akeem’s character, whose journey takes a drastically different turn in “Coming 2 America.” In the first movie, Akeem rebels against his parents’ wishes to find love of his own. Yet, in the second, his father’s dying wishes motivate all of his decisions. Akeem’s dedication to his father and Zamunda often overshadows his family’s needs and causes various conflicts. However, this tension brings a new layer of depth to Akeem’s character and showcases his fierce loyalty to his loved ones.

“Akeem and Lisa are like the audience that grew up on [the original]. Eddie is in his mid-20s in ‘Coming to America,’ and now Eddie Murphy has ten kids. He’s a different man!” Brewer laughed. “When you get to be a parent and start dealing with life, some of the things you were very idealistic about when you were younger tend to fade away. You’re trying to create a protective bubble around everything that you love, and that’s what happens with Akeem and Lisa in this movie. There are times where Akeem needs to disappoint us because he’s not necessarily doing the right thing all the time, and he needs to listen to his family a little bit to deal with the disruption.”

The new additions to the film, such as Lavelle and his family, General Izzi, Akeem’s three daughters and the hairdresser Mirembe, fit seamlessly with the original cast. Jermaine Fowler’s portrayal of Lavelle is especially strong, and his journey from playboy to prince is mesmerizing to watch. Kiki Layne also excels in portraying Meeka’s frustration with the sexism prevailing in Zamunda and her inability to claim the throne because of it.

Brewer said that Leslie Jones’ performance as Mary surprised him the most of all the performances. “She shows up to this castle, knowing that she had this baby with [Lisa’s] husband, and somehow she brings this attitude like ‘It’s fine! Let’s be friends! Isn’t this wonderful?’” Brewer said. “I didn’t go that deep into that kind of acceptance and love with [Mary’s] character as Leslie did, so I was pleasantly surprised with this character.”

“Coming 2 America” may be a comedy, but the film addresses a series of contemporary issues such as institutional racism. Brewer said that Murphy believed that the 1988 “Coming To America” itself was the Black voice, as it was the first blockbuster film with a predominantly Black cast. “The movie itself was the statement,” he said. “And the movie itself did not make any statements about race.” “Coming 2 America” needed to make these statements, however, as it takes place in today’s political climate. Brewer’s direction with addressing racism involves making the audience ask themselves, “why is this still happening?” “The joke greases the path for the seriousness to land,” Brewer explained. “Hopefully, the audience is shaking their head, like ‘Yeah, I can’t believe it too.’” 

Lavelle’s introduction scene involves him being racially profiled by a white man in a job interview. The scene succeeds in bringing seriousness, while maintaining a level of humor, as Lavelle ends up calling out the interviewer for his blatant racism and storming out. “That was a scene we were trying to get right,” Brewer said. “Kenya Barris, the writer on the project, did an excellent job at portraying this hidden “White Collar” racism. It shows a corporation hiring an African American, not for what they can truly bring with their ideas, culture and who they are, but because it checks a box.”

After finishing “Coming 2 America,” fans will clamor for a third installment of the series. Brewer hopes to film a crossover movie with another one of Murphy’s films, “Trading Places.” “It makes me think…is there an Eddie Murphy Universe?” Brewer laughed. Only time will tell, but the inevitable success of “Coming 2 America” may pave the way for the “E.M.C.U.”