I just want to start by thanking the universe for keeping James Earl Jones alive so he can reprise his iconic roles as both King Mufasa in The Lion King sequel and King Jaffe Joffer in Coming 2 America. There is no denying both reboots will be much better for it. Having said that, I recently rewatched the original Coming to America and I don't know if it's because of the times we're in or how much I miss home, but I saw so much of my own experience reflected in that movie. As a native of Zimbabwe, I have been privy to several conversations about Americans playing Africans in movies and even TV shows. Oftentimes, we are depicted as uneducated, primitive people who slaughter goats and play with lions for leisure. Not to mention the fact that Africa is often depicted as a single country when it is in fact a continent made up of 54 culturally and geographically diverse countries. (And just so we're clear—lions are vicious killing machines no matter the continent).
And when it comes to accents, films or shows that feature African immigrants have a tendency of settling for that caricatured dialect—you know the one with the deep voice and the over-emphasized vowels (see Kevin Hart in Ride Along 2). That one. It's for comedic effect, I get it and it's worked for a long time, so I can respect it. But with a glaring lack of representation, those tropes tend to permeate the zeitgeist and become the only points of reference. Thankfully, the needle is moving, and more people are discovering the beauty in their blackness and how African culture is so influential that it's evident in practically every aspect of pop culture today. Films such as Black Panther are also making it easier for Black people to stand tall and proud to take ownership of their heritage.
Though the tide is turning, it's worth noting that the original Coming to America was lightyears ahead when it came to representing Africans on film. The movie was released in 1988 and was bold enough to depict African people in positions of power. So much of its wit and subversive tactics are overshadowed by the fact that it's a comedy, but it was a trailblazer in that it didn't show African people struggling and pinning for approval—an attribute celebrated in current shows such as Bridgerton. In my opinion, it's simply one of the best rom-coms out there and consists of several deep truths that resonate with people like me, who migrated to the States decades after it was released. Here are five things the film got right about being an African immigrant.