Considering Coming 2 America, the recent sequel to the original Coming to America was filmed 30 years after the original, one would expect the film to have a bit of a modern era makeover. 30 years of technological advancements should be reflected in the CGI and cinematography, 30 years of achievements in makeup and fashion should be reflected in the films wardrobe, and most importantly, 30 years of social progress should be reflected in the film’s representation.
Overall, the original was not particularly lacking in these departments. Although there are some jokes that don’t hold up, mainly involving men dressing up like women for shock humor (how repulsive!), the movie features a handful of inspiring women, namely Lisa and Queen Aoleon. The film even passes the Bechdel Test! By all means the sequel was on track to continue the franchise’s decently “woke” trajectory into the present day, especially with the return of Shari Headley as Lisa, as well as the casting of KiKi Layne (If Beale Street Could Talk), Leslie Jones (Saturday Night Live), and singer/model Teyana Taylor. So why did I leave Coming 2 America (and by leave I mean get up from my couch) with such a bad taste in my mouth?
Before addressing the arcs in the film, it should be noted that, without repercussion, Leslie Jones’ character is said to have taken advantage of a drugged Prince Akeem during the time the first film takes place. Right away this adds uncomfortable layer to an otherwise fun performance. Seeing an actress like Leslie Jones enjoying a new regal lifestyle is sullied by knowing her character essentially assaulted someone.
Now the plot. Without a male heir, King Akeem is forced into a predicament where he has to either marry off his oldest daughter Meeka to General Izzi’s son, or risk invasion from the neighboring country Nexdoria. He declares his daughter is too good to be married off, and finds an alternative solution by going to meet his long lost son in America. Even without the visual clues of Meeka’s disappointed face, it’s not hard to figure out that the simple solution is right there: make Meeka queen. The movie makes it abundantly clear that Meeka becoming an official heir is the most likely going to happen. But if you are expecting to see a movie about Meeka’s perseverance and eventual ascent to the throne, prepare to be deeply disappointed.
The film persists in featuring Akeem’s son, Lavelle, experiencing Zamunda for the first time, and falling in love. At many turns Meeka is relegated to assisting Lavelle in his rites of passage. With each scene, it becomes painstakingly obvious that the movie is trying to make a point, as if trying to guide the audience to the conclusion we have already arrived at within minutes of watching the film. But what good is a feminist story arc when placed in the background of a male one? The film’s pushing aside of Meeka only reinforces the idea that women are secondary.
In a critique that I think applies to the movie overall, Meeka feels generic and hollow as a character. In the attempt to make a Strong Female Character, Meeka ultimately is made inhumanly flawless, with no spark or room for development. General Izzi refers to her as “Nasty” in a clear reference to Hillary Clinton having been called the same term by her presidential debate opponent. But this t-shirt selling type of feminism seems as cheap and shoe-horned in as the random Fashion Nova product placement interspersed throughout Coming 2 America. Even Meeka’s fight scene against General Izzi and his guards seems superfluous, considering we already know Meeka is a badass. Since the film is not about Meeka’s growth, the fight is not a payoff, so much as another showcase of Meeka’s abundant talents.
The resolution is a quick exchange where Akeem, after having been scolded by Lisa (whose scarcity in the film and reduction to “nagging wife” are equally problematic) decides to change the rule for Meeka to be able to be queen. Yay! Now let’s see what Lavelle’s up to.