Coming 2 America – A Funny and Sweet Black Fairytale

Just over three decades ago Eddie Murphy introduced moviegoers to Prince Akeem, the heir to the throne of the magical land of Zamunda. The much-anticipated sequel, Coming 2 America, follows the ever-unfolding story of the Joffers, the royal family of the land of Zamunda.

“In Coming To America, an African prince travels to America to find a regular girl and he brings her back to make her his princess. It’s a modern fairytale that a lot of people love and also, it was the very first time they ever had a movie with Black folks, where you had kings and queens,” Eddie Murphy says. “This film is a really cool continuation of that story and I want people to have a great experience while watching it.”

Coming 2 America is set in the lush and royal country of Zamunda, newly-crowned King Akeem (Eddie Murphy) and his trusted confidante Semmi (Arsenio Hall) embark on an all-new hilarious adventure that has them traversing the globe from their great African nation to the borough of Queens, New York – where it all began. 

“The real benefit of making a sequel to a classic like Coming To America 30 years later is that you get into the territory of your characters having lived lives,” notes director Craig Brewer, who saw the original film, which was his grandmother’s favorite, in theaters as a teenager.

“With Akeem, he’s watching his kids grow up and have their own opinions and also, he now carries the weight of being the king of his own castle. I knew those were interesting elements that we could bring to the story, along with the laughter. What might surprise many people is that there’s a lot of heart and soul to the movie.”    

 In life, as in art, timing is key.

According to producer Kevin Misher, the sequel came together when Murphy felt the time was right.

“One of the things about Coming To America was that it was a classic fish out of water story,” says Misher. “With Akeem and Semmi coming back to America 30 years later and Lavelle and his family dropping into the wonderful and picturesque world of Zamunda, we now have two fish out of water stories happening in this movie.”

“When taking on the sequel to a legendary property like the original Coming To America, there’s a certain obligation as a filmmaker because you have multiple generations of people who both revere it and regard it as their own,” he says. “So, you can’t think about doing anything related to Coming To America unless Eddie Murphy decides that it’s time to tell the story. And at this point, he decided that the time had come to revisit Akeem as an older man with a family.”

The journey to bringing Coming 2 America to fruition began with a phone call from Murphy to screenwriter Barry W. Blaustein, who, along with his writing partner, David Sheffield, has collaborated with the actor since his early days on Saturday Night Live.

Barry Blaustein – Películas, biografías y listas en MUBI
Barry W. Blaustein

In addition to Coming To America, on which they served as co-producers, the duo also penned screenplays for Murphy’s box-office hits including Boomerang, The Nutty Professor, The Nutty Professor Ii: The Klumps. For Coming 2 America, Murphy created the characters, while Blaustein and Sheffield crafted the story and co-wrote the screenplay with Kenya Barris.

“I got a call from Eddie, out of nowhere, and he said, I think I have a way of doing the sequel,” remembers Blaustein. “After he gave me a brief synopsis of the idea, I was interested, and he said, “I want you and David to write it.” That was four years ago.

David Sheffield remembers their initial conversations with Murphy, about shaping the story. “Early on, we talked about how everyone would want to see what’s going on with Akeem and Lisa and we decided that they should be happily married, and we gave them three daughters,” he notes. “We also planted the seeds about there being a feminist statement with the oldest daughter assuming her rightful place and Kenya Barris took that and ran with it. He did such a great job and we’re honored to share a credit with him.”

Barris recalls his fondness for the first film. “Eddie was one of the biggest stars in the world when Coming To America came out and he took the opportunity to create a land where Black people were grand,” Barris adds.

“The film is a Black fairytale and it pays tribute to our lineage, our heritage and the royalty and realness of who we are, which means a lot. Then, of course, there’s the fact that it was one of the funniest and most beloved movies of all time.”

Kenya Barris on '#BlackAF,' Police Reform and 2020 Elections - Variety
Kenya Barris

The goal was to expand the story, yes, but also bring back as much of the original cast as possible. “For Eddie and Arsenio, I think the film just builds off of the friendship they’ve had forever. It was also fun trying to figure out how to put all the different characters back in there and we tried to include everybody. If you were in the original movie for five seconds, we thought, ‘We’ll try to get you in there,’” laughs Blaustein.

Speaking of the original cast, Murphy reteams with Arsenio Hall and is joined by James Earl Jones, Shari Headley, John Amos and Louie Anderson, as well as Vanessa Bell Calloway, Paul Bates and Garcelle Beauvais.

“Of the countless roles I’ve played, King Jaffe Joffer remains one of the most enjoyable and iconic characters I’ve had the pleasure of portraying,” notes James Earl Jones. “With his regal and commanding presence as the ruler of Zamunda, I reveled at bringing King Joffer to life for Coming To America in 1988. And now, over 30 years later, I am honored to reprise my role for Coming 2 America. It means the world to me to be a part of this beloved franchise.”

He continues: “Working with Eddie Murphy has been an indelible experience. This powerful cast, both reuniting the original and welcoming the newcomers, represent the essence of Black royalty.”

As Hall notes, not much has changed for his character, Semmi. “The thing I love about playing Semmi is that he’s so totally different from me. We have different egos and dispositions toward life,” Hall says. “Semmi is that guy who’s always around and even though he’s a pain in the ass, no one ever thinks about getting rid of him. Everybody’s definitely on his case, though.”

For Shari Headley, reprising her role as Lisa left her full of emotion. “For decades, I’ve lived with this character and this film that fans love so much,” she begins, “and I can’t think of another movie that after 30 years, has come up with a sequel with the original cast. This is history, it’s iconic, and I feel so blessed to be a part of it. It was great to see everyone together.”

As fans of the original film remember, Lisa worked for her dad, Cleo (John Amos), at their family-run fast food spot, McDowell’s, so it would only be fitting that Cleo move to Africa to launch McDowell’s Zamunda.

“It’s very rare in this business that you get a chance to work with actors you respect,” Amos notes, “but then to work with those actors again, after thirty years, is beyond belief – it’s just a blessing.”

Admittedly, the veteran actor had to focus on maintaining a straight face when sharing scenes with Murphy. “Part of working with Eddie Murphy is controlling your emotions so you can play the moment as it should be played without cracking up at the wrong time,” he notes. The two actors shared a dramatic exchange in the film as well. “Cleo has to help Akeem continue on as the ruler of Zamunda, despite his losses and the pain he might be feeling. That moment enhances the story appreciably.”

As for Maurice (Louie Anderson), after decades of putting in work, he’s finally graduated from washing lettuce to frying fries and now, serves as assistant manager at McDowell’s Zamunda. And though he’s earned his stripes, he’s pretty much the same ol’ guy, thanks to comedy great, Louie Anderson.

And there certainly could not be a sequel without Reverend Brown (Hall), Randy Watson (Murphy) and his legendary band, “Sexual Chocolate”, or the My-T-Sharp barbershop crew, who are still cutting up and clipping hair on the same block, in the same spot, despite all of the gentrification in Queens. Seeing Soul Glo hair products displayed around the shop makes it seem as though time has stood still for Clarence and Saul (Murphy), Morris (Hall) and Sweets (Clint Smith), but they’re not short on sharing their flagrant opinions about current events.

“It’s like getting a chance to step into a time machine, but like the best time machine, ever,” Barris says of watching Murphy and Hall slip back into the multiple characters that are so beloved by fans. “Knowing that they’re friends in real life and actually seeing them work together again, you can really feel all of that energy in their scenes.”

As for why this is the perfect time to take movie goers back to Zamunda and Queens, Eddie Murphy sums it up in a few words.

“This movie is funny and it also has sweet, emotional moments, too,” he says. “It’s escapism, it’s entertainment and everybody needs a good laugh. I’m really proud of how this picture turned out. Coming 2 America is a breath of fresh air.”

The Screenwriters

Kenya Barris (Screenwriter) is a Rhodes Scholar. A triathlete. A safe driver. He is none of these, but what he may lack in worldliness and phone etiquette, he more than makes up for in neck tattoos. Though widely celebrated as an award-winning writer, producer and director, it may surprise some to learn just how under-recognized for over-accessorizing Barris truly is.

Born and raised in Inglewood, California, Barris attended school, sometimes multiple days in a row, throughout his entire childhood before eventually leaving Los Angeles to attend Clark Atlanta University in Georgia, where he graduated with students who graduated with honors. In his tireless pursuit of post-graduate excellence, Barris started and stopped no less than seventeen juice cleanses before embarking upon a successful career as a television writer/producer and ultimately creating the hit ABC series black-ish, based on his own life as a husband, father, and failed pescatarian. The show quickly became a critical and popular success, amassing multiple awards and launching three spin-off series – grown-ish on Freeform and mixed-ish at ABC, along with the recently green-lit old-ish. Still, of all his many accolades, Barris remains most humbled by being named the proud recipient of the prestigious 1998 Federal Tax Lien.

Notwithstanding a decades-long addiction to Afrin nasal-spray, Barris hasn’t stopped creating, among his most recent projects, the Netflix original series #blackAF, which Barris starred in opposite Rashida Jones; the variety sketch series Astronomy Club; and the record-breaking feature film Girls Trip. He has also expanded his work into other genres of storytelling with several projects in various stages of development, including a documentary feature about the life and career of groundbreaking civil rights attorney Ben Crump; a first-of-its-kind adult animated music series Entergalatic based on Grammy Award-winning artist Kid Cudi’s upcoming album of the same name; and a feature-length musical about Juneteenth with Pharrell Williams as his partner on the project. Also in Barris’ development queue, provided he doesn’t become too distracted by the comings and goings of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, are a reboot of the family comedy Cheaper By The Dozen starring Gabrielle Union and Zach Braff; a remake of the classic sports comedy White Men Can’t Jump; and an animated feature based on the songs of Bob Marley. Barris also hopes to venture into the tech world with plans for an app that could potentially track all the locations at which a person has had a haircut, despite lukewarm interest from investors. 

Along with his creative endeavors, Barris is a staunch believer in giving back and knows that with great success comes great responsibility. Remember Hurricane Sandy? So does Barris. In fact, his community mindedness is so strong that in 2018 he was honored with the ACLU’s Bill of Rights Award in recognition of his commitment to providing opportunities to young and emerging talent, particularly women and people of color, as well as for the contributions he has made in supporting civil liberties and social justice as a member of the organization’s Board of Trustees. Additionally, in 2018 Barris donated $1 million to establish the Kenya and Rainbow Barris Annual Scholarship Award at his Alma Matter, Clark Atlanta University, where he also received an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters. Nevertheless, if someone asks for “Dr. Barris,” they likely want one who actually went to medical school. 

Barris lives in Los Angeles with his half-dozen or so children. He hopes to one day retire or to at least know what sleep is again.

Barry W.  Blaustein (Screenwriter) is the director and producer of the critically acclaimed documentary, Beyond The Mat.  Proclaimed by the Los Angeles Times as one of the best films of the year, it was also one of 12 finalists for the Academy Award for Best Documentary and won numerous film festivals throughout the world, including the Best Documentary Award at the South by Southwest Film Festival, as well as garnering a Director’s Guild nomination for Mr. Blaustein.

His documentary, Guys ‘N Divas:  Battle Of The High School Musicals, which followed three high schools competing to be invited to the International Thespian Festival, aired on Showtime along with other major cable stations.

In the non-documentary arena, Blaustein directed Peep World, a feature film starring Michael C. Hall, Sarah Silverman, Rainn Wilson, Taraji P. Henson and Kate Mara, which had its world premiere at the Toronto Film Festival and was released by IFC Films. Previous to that, he directed The Ringer, which starred Johnny Knoxville and Katherine Heigl and was released by Fox Searchlight. 

Along with his writing partner David Sheffield, Blaustein’s feature writing credits include Coming To America, Nutty Professor, Nutty Professor 2: The Klumps and Boomerang, on which they also served as co-producers. As head writers and supervising producers on Saturday Night Live, Blaustein and Sheffield also wrote and developed many of Eddie Murphy’s more famous characters including Buckwheat, Velvet Jones, Gumby and Mr. Robinson. They also co-wrote and produced What’s Alan Watching for CBS, which won the National Television Critics Award as Best Special of the Year.

Blaustein also helped create and served as a consultant on the Russian TV show Fizruk, which is the highest-rated TV show in the history of Russian television. In addition, he’s the first American to ever win the Taffy Award (the Russian equivalent of the Emmy).

Along with serving as spokesperson for the Parkinson’s Foundation, Blaustein is a board member of the American Institute for Stuttering. Currently, he is a professor of screenwriting at Chapman University.

David Sheffield (Screenwriter) began his career at Saturday Night Live where he had a hand in writing many of Eddie Murphy’s most famous sketches including Buckwheat, Gumby, Mr. Robinson’s Neighborhood and James Brown’s Celebrity Hot Tub Party. His movie credits – all shared with long-time writing partner, Barry W. Blaustein – include Coming To America, Boomerang, The Nutty Professor And Nutty Professor 2: The Klumps.

Justin Kanew (Screenwriter) is a writer/producer who currently resides in Tennessee with his wife and two children, where he runs the Tennessee Holler, a progressive news site. He was also a Democratic nominee for Congress in 2018. He previously ran production & development for National Lampoon and produced Welcome To The Jungle, starring Adam Brody and Jean-Claude Van Damme. Kanew was also a two-time contestant on The Amazing Race with his best friend, Zev Glassenberg. He is the son of Jeff Kanew, director of Revenge Of The Nerds, among other films.

Dolemite Is My Name': Craig Brewer, Eddie Murphy movie opens in Memphis
Craig Brewer and Eddie Murphy

The Director

Craig Brewer (Director) is a multi-disciplinary artist with a knack for humanizing characters in his storytelling. A director, producer and writer, his passion for filmmaking stems from an ability to captivate his audience and connect culturally relevant plots onscreen.

As a young prodigy, the streets of Memphis, Tennessee, served as his film school. Brewer’s guerilla-style approach and relentless work ethic led to his first feature film, THE POOR & HUNGRY, the screenplay for which he began writing at P&H Café during his tenure as manager of a local Barnes & Noble. Shot in the late 90s, the “digiflik” captured and complimented the gritty day-to-day grind of those surviving in his southern hometown. With a small, run-and-gun skeleton crew and local musicians providing the soundtrack, Craig and his team created magic with the raw, yet soulful, drama. THE POOR & HUNGRY won Best Digital Feature at the 2000 Hollywood Film Festival and was acquired by the Independent Film Channel soon after.

Brewer’s second feature film, HUSTLE & FLOW, starred Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson and was produced by Stephanie Allain and the late John Singleton. The film, which premiered at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival and earned the Audience Award for Best Feature, secured a record-breaking acquisition deal by Paramount Pictures and MTV Films. HUSTLE & FLOW garnered an Academy Award nomination for Lead Actor for Terrence Howard and won the Academy Award for Best Original Song for Three 6 Mafia’s It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp.

His third film, BLACK SNAKE MOAN, starred Samuel L. Jackson, Christina Ricci and Justin Timberlake. Driven by a classic and contemporary blues soundtrack, BLACK SNAKE MOAN is a Southern gothic tale featuring the Brewer hallmarks of sex, sin and redemption. The film premiered at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival and was released in theatres by Paramount Pictures.

Brewer later directed a remake of the 1984 film, FOOTLOOSE, which was released on October 14, 2011 and introduced audiences to upcoming artists Kenny Wormald and Julianne Hough. In 2012, he produced Paramount Pictures’ concert documentary, KATY PERRY: PART OF ME. In 2015, a decade following the release of HUSTLE & FLOW, he re-teamed with Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson on their hit TV series, Empire, as a writer, director and producer.

In June 2018, Craig began directing the Netflix feature, DOLEMITE IS MY NAME, starring Eddie Murphy and Wesley Snipes. The critically-acclaimed film is based on the life of 1970s comedian, Rudy Ray Moore, who financed an action film based on a character from his stand-up material.