Debatably the most popular black film of all time, Coming to America is the story of Prince Akeem, who, in lieu of his arranged marriage as the Prince of Zumunda, elects to go to Queens in search of true love. On to the tale of the tape…
Relevance: While we live in a ‘post-racial’ America (cough, cough), it’s hard to imagine the biggest black movie star today (Will?) getting this movie greenlit and made the way it was made. LOOK AT THIS CAST LIST: Eddie Murphy, Arsenio Hall, James Earl Jones, John Amos, Madge Sinclair, Samuel L. Jackson, Eriq LaSalle, Cuba Gooding Jr., Garcelle Beauvis, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Ruben Santiago-Hudson (you may not automatically remember who they were in the film, but trust me, they were all in there). That cast list is symbolic of the one word I would use to describe this film: loaded.
Legacy: Again, impossible to pick one thing. People give The Nutty Professor credit for this, but every fan of this film knows Eddie originated his ‘playing multiple characters in one scene’ routine with the barbershop here. I believe the Very Smart Brothas made this point before I did, but this is easily the most quotable black film of all time, if not the most popular. “My name is Peaches, and I’m the best…” You know the rest. Does that even break the top 10 of the best lines from this film?
Craft: Film geek time. For the million and one jokes we could spend all day quoting back and forth, the reason this film endures (in my humble opinion) is because it is a genuinely good romantic comedy. That’s the heart of it. Without that, you’ve still got a really funny film but not an all time classic. I know Shari Headley was one of my earliest crushes and started me on the path of favoring the cute girl with a head on her shoulders over the sexpot with wind blowing between the ears (and I know through conversation I wasn’t the only brotha who felt like that). Even the throwaway ‘Trading Places’ joke was a very nice homage for Eddie Murphy fans (would they even let the joke slide in these days? Everything is so corporate). I’m getting off track but John Landis (also the director of Thriller) was/is a hell of a director.
Crossover: I don’t know how to fully explain this to a generation who only knows Eddie Murphy through marginal family films, but he was THE MAN in the 80s. The Man! And a big part of that was because of Saturday Night Live; he was a massive crossover success before this film (and in fact certainly helped it get made).
Apollo: Soul Glo and the jheri-curled stained couch? A little. “She’s your Queen to Be?” Somewhat. Me and those close to me live by a Code. Among the rules of that Code is this: “Don’t make your homies look bad.” But there are exceptions to the rule of course. In our first year in L.A. me and my roommate at the time agreed that if we were on some studio lot, and Eriq LaSalle threw a milkshake on one of us and sped off in his luxury car, there would be no fault if the other cat fell out laughing. That (in my humble opinion) is one of the best ‘Apollo’ moments in any movie (and some of you may not think that’s the best Apollo moment in this movie).
The top 5 films kicks off with a film that was as prestigious as it was popular. Until then, this is Malik ‘Sexual Chocolate’ Aziz signing out.
(dropping keyboard as I stare at the screen…)
(pointing at the screen and exiting stage left…)