Rhy's Black History Month Series: Coming to America
I often struggle with picking a definitive list of my favorite movies, but on today, here’s the shortlist: Silence of the Lambs, The Godfather, and Coming to America. I could easily write an argument for the greatness of Silence of the Lambs or The Godfather, but the clear underdog in my top-three is Coming to America. This is completely unfair, however, and thus why I want to discuss why Coming to America is an undeniable masterpiece that doesn’t get nearly enough credit.
Clearly, Eddie Murphy ruled the big screen in the mid-to-late 1980s; he is a comedic genius that was somehow ahead of his time and spot on, simultaneously. One of my dad’s personal favorites is 1989’s Harlem Nights and it’s clear to me why he loves that film so much. Harlem Nights is an ingenious comedy with a star-studded cast that could've literally wrote the entire script themselves (and many times did mid-scene.) Harlem Nights was written, produced, and executed perfectly, completely outshining Coming to America in many ways. This tangent is only to highlight Eddie Murphy’s brilliance, not to compare two of my favorite films. What I’m aiming to do is express briefly what Coming to America means to me and the culture.
When Coming to America was released in 1988, the romantic comedy movie genre was coming into its own and Coming to America was a one of — if not — the first Black family-friendly rom-com to explore the ideas of arranged marriage and dating in Black families and in our community. The cultural references (Black church fundraisers, Soul Glo, the barbershop banter) makes it feel authentic and adds to the true comedic nature of the movie without looking for cheap laughs. The positive Black representations in the movie — from James Earl Jones being an African king to John Amos being a black business owner — contrasted with the lack of negative stereotypes that can sometimes make their way into Black comedies is never not refreshing, making it one of my favorite movies to watch on a regular basis.
The visuals and attention to details goes unnoticed, but is essential to the beauty of the film. The opening scene at the palace, the stunning performance at Akeem’s arranged marriage, the way they explored New York, the visuals, and vibe of Queens were all expertly captured. And what I probably love most about the movie is that the cast is lowkey heavily loaded. Obviously you’ve got your already established stars (at the time) like James Earl Jones, Madge Sinclair, John Amos, and Arsenio Hall, but it’s cool years later to also see Frankie Faison, Louie Anderson, Vanessa Bell, Samuel L. Jackson, and even quick cameos by Cuba Gooding Jr. and Garcelle Beauvais. Academy Award-winning actors as cameos. The ability to create a truly star-studded cast eluded Eddie’s pull at the time; nonetheless, those he does get to work with for the film are still extremely impressive.
In short, Coming to America is a cinematic masterpiece with masterful production, great writing, and an awesome cast. Undoubtedly, Coming to America is one of Eddie Murphy’s best, an overall wholesome and funny story that deserves recognition amongst the best romantic comedies — and comedies, period — of all-time.