• Chandlor Henderson

The Impact of Cinematic Images on African Perceptions

Updated: Apr 2

By Dr. Lamont Ali Francies, PPSC



When the movie Coming to America was released in the summer of 1988, I can vividly

remember watching the feature with a since of excitement and exuberance. In the

1980’s Eddie Murphy was in the prime of his career and came into his own as comedic

royalty. I had seen Murphy in Trading Places and 48 Hours, but this movie was

different. This was Eddie Murphy starring as the lead in a predominantly Black cast,

starring alongside icons such as John Amos, James Earl Jones and Madge Sinclaire.

All three of these Hollywood heavyweights helped us understand the importance of our

African Roots in the blockbuster 1977 TV miniseries. From these three Black icons we

conceptualized our African heritage as something to be respected and revered. We

understood our rich history before the Atlantic Slave Trade and the devastating effects

of the Maafa on the African psyche. The original Coming to America gave us a glimpse

of our rich African ancestry, at a time that continental African life mostly portrayed

people in extreme poverty in desperate need of European paternalism.



The fictional African country of Zamunda was the first time I saw people of African

descent thriving without the presence and patriarchal influence of Europeans. For

Murphy’s character (Prince Akeem), coming to America was not the culmination of his

life. The movie covertly revolved around the concept of rescuing stolen Blacks from

America and restoring their African royalty. At the end of the first Coming to America,

Prince Akeem was able to bring back a bride, liberate her from her European slave

name, keep his natural hair and crush stereotypes of African life in the process. Our

success as African Americans would no longer defined by imitating the epitome of

American capitalism and imperialism (McDowells) but forging our own path to

prosperity. That was the hidden message behind the first Coming to America and the

reason it was well received by African American audiences.



Audiences waited over thirty years for the release of Coming to America 2. We wanted to see how the African royal kingdom of Zumunda had flourished. We wanted to see the people of the African Diaspora emerge on the world stage as dignified and distinguished. Instead, we witnessed a slew of stereotypes which served to further divide American and continental Africans. The movie failed to display a true depiction of African life. Africa is a diverse continent, which includes both cities and rural areas. What we saw in the movie outside the palace are royals running from wild animals. Outside the palace, we do not see this African country as a desirable place to reside. It is depicted as an area that needs to be colonized with more American conglomerates such as McDowells.


The movie was riddled with too many celebrity cameos and cliche lines. The storyline needed more meat and potatoes and not necessarily ’Salt & Peppa’. The ostentatious soul singer Randy Watson played by Murphy re-emerges in the flick appearing to be a reincarnated version of Norbit’s Rasputia. Arsenio Hall plays an African witch doctor that resembles Rafiki from the Lion King. This perfunctory character appears and sycophantically caters to the royal court bringing no significant value to the film. The sequel declined into a parody of the first. We began to witness was a Wayans Brothers production that fished for laughs without allowing them to emerge naturally. Because of this, many scenes unfortunately fell flat.


The movie opens with the passing of King Jaffre Joffre played by James Earl Jones. In

the first release he represented an unapologetic African King who understood his worth,

dignity and value. In the sequel, King Joffre seemed more interested in consuming

popular American commercialism, than in passing on the legacy of his rich African

heritage. Audiences could not mourn the true passing of this patriarch because it was

proceeded by a reproduction of Summer Jam 1988. His funeral seemed less like a

homegoing and more like a Geico commercial.


Prince Akeem finds out from his father before his passing that he has an illegitimate

male heir to the throne. He is also told by King Jaffe Joffer that his female daughters

born in wedlock are disqualified due to their gender. This storyline reinforces

stereotypes of African countries being primitive and sexist. These depictions tend to

cause consumers to view various African cultures from a Western lens. The result

becomes the expulsion of those traditions rather than the impartial examination of them.


The illegitimate son of Akeem was not conceived in an extramarital affair like Adonis

Creed, but in what amounted as date rape. If this sexual violation had of been

perpetrated by a man, the scene would have been widely denounced. Akeem’s son is

produced illegitimately without his knowledge and now we witness the result of another

African American male being raised without a father. Illegitimacy has been an issue in

the African American community with close to 70% of Black children born to unwed parents. However, this has not always been the case, In 1940 only 8.7% of U.S. Black

households were headed by single parents. The condition of the current African

American family was created by U.S. policies designed to destroy the fabric of this

fundamental unit. This was not addressed in any indirect way throughout the movie.

What the release shows is that Africans living in America are content as long we have

our music, our social media and our inexorable pursuit of materialism.



African Americans have always relied on the extended family structure. In the movie, Prince Akeem’s illegitimate son Lavelle, (played by Jermaine Fowler) is mentored by his maternal

uncle Reem Junson (played by Tracy Morgan). Throughout the feature, Uncle Reem fails to provide his nephew Lavelle guidance into true manhood. His uncle teaches him how to hustle but nothing about their rich history that will direct him into his destiny.



Lavelle’s mother Mary Junson is (played by Leslie Jones) is consistently portraying African

American stereotypes throughout the movie. Leslie Jones is a talented actress who

constantly finds her blackness objectified. As a cast member of Saturday Night Live she is habitually limited to playing capricious characters that are loud, angry and overly aggressive. In the movie Mary Junson never searches for the father of her son and upon his re-appearance seems comfortable playing his sidepiece as long as it results in a life of luxury for herself. What is the difference between Mary Junson and the VH1 depiction of the

‘Basketball Wives’ who use their ability to bear children as a means to ‘secure the bag’.

By the end of the movie Mary even manages to get the crowned Queen of Zumunda

drunk, which causes tension in the royal household. Queen Lisa Joffer sulked as Mary

Junson made her yearn for the consumption of non-socially conscious hip hop as a

better alternative to her ‘boring’ African life.



Mary Junson was constantly driven by carnality and materialism and failed to offer her son any motherly Afrocentric guidance about the all too important selection of his life partner. This is what the late Madge Sinclaire (Queen Aleon) did for her son Akeem in the first movie with dignity and decorum. We all know that you do not have to be a crowned queen of a fictional African country to provide such essential guidance.



In the movie we witness Prince Lavelle meeting his biological father for the first-time

scalping tickets outside of a sporting arena. Lavelle is royalty and he is unaware it. Now

isn’t that the story of Africans living in America. We do not understand our identity, so

we live below our dignity. Prince Lavelle returns to his African country of origin to

enjoys the rights of a prince without understanding the responsibility of one. He believes

African royalty affords him to live the life of a minstrel hip-hop mogul. His father Akeem

teaches him the protocol of a royal without the decolonizing the mind of the negro. It is

ultimately Lavelle’s miseducation that leads to his misconduct.



Hollywood veteran Wesley Snipes who is not known for his comedic roles played the

character of General Izzi, the murderous warlord of the fictional African country

Nextdoria. General Izzi is the son of Colonel Izzi who was played by Calvin Lockhart in

the origin film. Notice the difference between how Lockhart presented his daughter in

marriage and how Snipes presents his. In the first release Imani (Vanessa Callaway

Bell) is presented by her father Colonel Izzi with courtesy and class. Snipes on the other

hand enters the royal palace like a 70’s blaxploitation character and presents his

daughter Teyana Taylor like a 1990’s video vixen. Now thirty years after the image

shattering stereotypes of the Cosby Show and A Different World; how can this depiction

be seen as Black progress?




Hollywood veteran Wesley Snipes who is not known for his comedic roles played the

character of General Izzi, the murderous warlord of the fictional African country

Nextdoria. General Izzi is the son of Colonel Izzi who was played by Calvin Lockhart in

the origin film. Notice the difference between how Lockhart presented his daughter in

marriage and how Snipes presents his. In the first release Imani (Vanessa Callaway

Bell) is presented by her father Colonel Izzi with courtesy and class. Snipes on the other

hand enters the royal palace like a 70’s blaxploitation character and presents his

daughter Teyana Taylor like a 1990’s video vixen. Now thirty years after the image

shattering stereotypes of the Cosby Show and A Different World; how can this depiction

be seen as Black progress?



John Amos who played Cleo McDowell gives a decent performance in the sequel. The

veteran actor is best known for portraying the powerful hardworking patriarch of the

Evans family in the TV sitcom Good Times. We often remember how his character was

killed off in the 4th season of the show due to his clash with the show’s white writers

over the mischaracterization of Black images. Therefore, his reemergence in movies for

many African Americans who grew up without a father is always reassuring. In what

was perhaps the most power scene in the movie, Cleo McDowell gives his son-in-law

the patriarchal advice that his own father failed to give him in anticipation of his passing.

King Akeem honors the African tradition of respect for elders and receives better

guidance in the back of a fast food restaurant than he does in the royal palace. This

shows us the wisdom in King Akeem because he able to discern difference and receive knowledge outside his royal circle.



In conclusion, no one expected Coming to America 2 to live up the hype of the original

release, most sequels rarely do. Although the first film was not without its faults, it

soared in comparison to the second. Coming to America 2 had more stars but less

cultural standards. It appeared to be another Hollywood money grab, written mainly by

non-black writers (David Sheffield & Barry Blaustein, who co-wrote the first Coming to

America, SNL skits, Boomerang and the Nutty Professor movies). In the year 2021

people of African descent must control our own images in the media. We can no longer

afford to let anyone who is not committed to Pan-African progress tell our story or re-

write our history. As life often imitates art, we begin to play out these carefully crafted

caricatures and consume our own collective destruction as a form of entertainment.

Images are the language of the soul and many symbols from this movie are etched in

our psyche endeavoring to re-define the African experience in America. Coming to

America should not equate to ‘Cooning in America’. So now we are left wondering after

the second time we came to America, how will this release affect the way the world

sees Mother Africa? ...And us, her many global descendants.


(Coming 2 America is a Paramount Film, released by Amazon for March 5, 2021)

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