Pop Culture, Race & Politics, Theory & Essay

Why We’d Hate Coming To America If It Was Released Today

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Although there are Black movies (“Black movies” = “movies featuring Black people and/or Black stories”) that are better (Malcolm X, Glory, Do The Right Thing, etc), more important (The Color Purple, Shaft, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, etc), and even funnier (Undercover Brother, I’m Gonna Git You Sucka, The Original Kings of Comedy, etc), none are as universally beloved by us as Coming to America. 

While it’s not definitely not loved by every single Black person, there’s no doubt it would appear on more of our favorite’s lists than any other Black film. There’s even less doubt that, if we took a vote, “Queen to Be” could replace “Lift Every Voice and Sing” as our national anthem.

Yet, after re-watching it last weekend for the 367234th time, something dawned on me: If this movie was released in 2014, it would not receive the same love. In fact, many of us would hate it. Not all of us, of course. Many would still enjoy it. But, considering today’s general mood about comedy — where certain types of humor seems to have to pass through a gauntlet of arbitrarily determined standards before considered socially acceptable — there would be so much negative pushback towards it that even the people who loved it would be loathe to publicly admit it.

The pushback would start on Facebook and #blacktwitter weeks before the movie was even released, as word about the plot and the people involved would begin to circulate.

“A White director making a comedy about Africa? #nocountryforoldappropriation”

“Apparently, Arsenio is in a wig during a scene. And a dress. I couldn’t make this sh*t up if I tried. Does everyone in Hollywood hate Black women?”

As the release date neared, and media people started to attend advance screenings, thinkpieces would start to formulate on Slate, The Root, Clutch, EBONY, Jezebel, and (admittedly) VSB.

Coming to America’s Big, Fat Africa Problem: What The Movie Gets Wrong About African Immigrants, And Why It’s So Upsetting 

Queen To Be? Not If She’s Dark: Coming to America’s Disturbing Colorism 

Lisa McDowell, Feminist or Fake?

Homies or Homie/Lover/Friends? Akeem and Semmi’s Very Peculiar Bond

From Mop to Fries in Three Years: On Slave Wages and Cleo McDowell 

Was it Selfish For Eddie and Arsenio To Play Multiple Characters Instead of Hiring More Black Actors?

By the time the movie was set to be released, there would be so many petitions and protests against it that the studio would pull it from the theaters. WorldStarHipHop would buy the rights to it, replace Shari Headley and Allison Dean with Erica Mena and Dutchess from Black Ink, and release it in six 15 minute long installments on their site.

I don’t know if there would be a sequel. Perhaps there would be one 14 years after the original film was released. Who knows? I don’t.

I do know, though, that no one would ever sing “Queen to Be” at their wedding.

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

Damon Young

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB. He is also a contributing editor for EBONY.com. He resides in Pittsburgh, and he really likes pancakes.

  • McNairian

    I agree, Coming to America would be banned, slammed and panned if it were released today. With that being said, It’s would still get an Oscar compared to Soul Plane.

    That link tho…So much to say, but I can’t…Pray for a brother.

    • PaddyfotePrincess

      I’ve never seen Soul Plane. Is it that bad?

      • Msdebbs

        Yes it was but not as bad as Janky promoters.

        • PaddyfotePrincess

          Lol. Damn.

        • kidvideo

          “Janky Promoters” could have been a good comedy if it had a different writer/director…the film should have taken place in the south(Memphis maybe?)…Soul Plane was going to be crappy regardless…it had a terrible premise.

          • http://stanoffewwords.wordpress.com/ Tristan

            The presmise was to make a black version of Airplane they just failed miserably

            • kidvideo

              Those Airplane/Naked Gun/Kentucky Fried Movie/Amazon Women on the Moon- type films are not easy to get right…
              Soul plane failed horribly just like those other recent spoof films…
              *Scary Movie Franchise
              *Date Movie
              *Superhero Movie
              *Teen Romantic/High School movie
              *High School High had its moments

          • panamajackson

            See, I disagree. Ninja comes up on loot and decides to blow it in the most egregious way possible. I believe we call that hip-hop in the 2000s.

        • panamajackson

          Janky Promoters wasn’t horrible either. None of these movies is as bad as Belly 2. Belly 2 was so bad I wrote an entire post about it.

          • Epsilonicus

            I need to see Belly 2. I know no one who likes it.

        • http://stanoffewwords.wordpress.com/ Tristan

          thats the one with jeezy right…think i watched 10 minutes and realized i could be doing more with my life

      • http://brown-c6h12o6.tumblr.com/ AfroPetite

        Soul Plane was horrendous. Kevin Hart was in the film trying to play a semi-serious role. It was one of those, “white people get thrown into a hood environment, let’s see how they react” movies. Similar to that movie Queen Latifah was in with Steve Martin.

        • PaddyfotePrincess

          I’ll watch it eventually. I made it through “Glitter” and it can’t be worse than that.

          I didn’t care for Bringing Down the House, but that scene where the old white lady asks Queen Latifah if she is familiar with her favorite negro spiritual is hilarious.

        • http://stanoffewwords.wordpress.com/ Tristan

          the awkward white guy surrounded by ninjas card is tired…ooh look they dont get the jokes and half afraid to die…hee-lair-ree-us

      • panamajackson

        No. It’s not that bad.

    • panamajackson

      I will forever stand by the fact that Soul Plane gets a bad wrap. That joint was no worse than half of the movies I’ve seen.

      • dmcmillian72

        Yeah, I agree with you PJ. I thought it was quite funny when I saw it…in a, “Damn! No they didn’t!!!,’ kind of way most of the time…but still funny.

  • http://vagabondaesthetics.tumblr.com/ Ricky

    Coming to America is mid-tier Eddie Murphy 80s funny.

    • locks & beards

      “…we don’t currently have MEGA Black comedian anymore.”
      What is Kevin Hart? Am I the only one laughing at his jokes?

      • Msdebbs

        Yes you are. That little thang really isn’t not funny to me.

      • Sigma_Since 93

        Eddie was making bank on the small screen, big screen and touring. Kevin has two of the three legs handled. Chris Rock said that Jerry Stienfield told him you know you’ve made it when you get “the kit”. The kit was createive freedom AND control to star in or produce small screen, big screen and touring projects.

        Kevin’s a little short of the kit status

      • http://vagabondaesthetics.tumblr.com/ Ricky

        I don’t know how much, if any, creative control Kevin has over the projects he’s in.

        • http://stanoffewwords.wordpress.com/ Tristan

          I believe the last two Standups was all him

          • http://vagabondaesthetics.tumblr.com/ Ricky

            I mean I’m looking at his imdb profile and his only writing credits are for his stand up acts.

      • http://trulytafakari.com/ dtafakari

        He’s less funny to me than he used to be. I LOVED ‘I’m A Grown Little Man.’ His first three comedy specials were great. I didn’t love “Let Me Explain.’ It wasn’t that funny to me. In his movies, he plays the same role over and over: loud little guy. So I’ll soon be skipping most of his movies. His ubiquity doesn’t appeal to me lol.

        • http://brown-c6h12o6.tumblr.com/ AfroPetite

          Agreed. Kevin Hart is an easily digestible comedian for the masses to consume. I think Hannibal Buress is the most hilarious guy ever though. He doesn’t have to yell at me to get his jokes across. The punchlines are so random and unexpected lol Please watch below:

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N5gJLujeCKk

          • Epsilonicus

            Hmm. Hannibal is cool. He isn’t wack but I also was not just BOLing though.

            • http://brown-c6h12o6.tumblr.com/ AfroPetite

              Maybe this wasn’t the funniest clip I could find but he’s truly a gem.

            • kidvideo

              I like Hannibal’s “Pickel Juice” routine.

    • PaddyfotePrincess

      Agreed. Eddie is definitely the king of the 80s. Our ninja Dave? Sigh. He is missed.

    • panamajackson

      mid-tier? It’s part of the great Eddie triumvirate of Bevery Hills Cop, Coming to America, and Trading Places. All great movies.

  • http://brown-c6h12o6.tumblr.com/ AfroPetite

    Black women would run the colorism bit INTO THE GROUND! I won’t lie, I was definitely involved in a heated debate about the lighter sister becoming the princess over her darker sister.

    • Msdebbs

      It was the 80’s light skinned was in. And almost ALL of Eddie Murphy’s leading ladies are light skinned. I think the darkest was Janet Jackson in the nutty professor 2

      • kidvideo

        Robin Givens in Boomerang was a shade darker than Janet…

        • Msdebbs

          I forgot about Robin but their about the same complexion imo

        • n/a

          But Eddie left her for Halle though lol

      • http://brown-c6h12o6.tumblr.com/ AfroPetite

        Janet would’ve been the darkest? Sheesh. I’ve actually had quite a few conversations about colorism in black film but like you said, art imitates life.

      • http://www.twitter.com/IluminatiNYC Todd

        Now you’re making me think of Kanye West circa the College Dropout: “I’ma make sure these light skinned ninjas never, ever, never come back in style!”

        • afronica

          Drake. *rim shot*

    • Rachmo

      Haha at least your honest. I don’t remember who played the other lady but she was a stunner

      • Yoles

        vanessa bell calloway

        • http://brown-c6h12o6.tumblr.com/ AfroPetite

          Vanessa wasn’t the sister though. She was the girl Eddie was supposed to be married off to initially.

          • Rachmo

            That was my bad I thought you were talking about the gorgeous barking Ms. Calloway

  • locks & beards

    You know what bores me to tears? When something that is not that overly deep and/or serious (eg. Coming to America) is overanalyzed and critiqued and deconstructed into so many nonsensical words as if it were a PHD thesis. That irritates me. Whatever happened to just watching and enjoying without the extraness, and I don’t care that all media or whatever has an agenda-to program you into thinking a certain way. phakk that shid.

    • Val

      Ignorance is bliss, right? Just eat what you are fed and enjoy it!

      • locks & beards

        I didn’t say that.

      • http://www.twitter.com/IluminatiNYC Todd

        Can something just be entertainment? Life has its silly and ridiculous moments. And in my experience, people who fight against that either have something dramatically shameful they are trying to hide about themselves or are using the protest to hide the complete lack of any sort of personality, good, bad or indifferent.

        • http://www.saysmeblog.wordpress.com/ Aly

          “people who fight against that either have something dramatically shameful they are trying to hide about themselves or are using the protest to hide the complete lack of any sort of personality, good, bad or indifferent.”

          Please expound.

          • http://www.twitter.com/IluminatiNYC Todd

            For the vast majority of people involved in causes, they have some interest, hobby or avocation outside of those causes. They may like to cook, or play sports or watch movies or do something other than what they’ve dedicated their life to. To be fair, since these activities are a part of their personality, they do have some influence on their causes, but their interest in them is separate and distinct from their belief.

            The first group of people (and largest, in my experience) are those whose dedication to a cause is so total and all-consuming because they are ultimately hiding some demons in their lives. It can go from as trivial as the dry drunk bemoaning the dangers of alcohol and bars to the extreme someone like Jerry Sandusky using his love of underprivileged children to hide his “love” of underprivileged children, if you get my drift and a whole lot of stops in the middle. The broader point is that these people feel that what they’re truly about as a person is shameful, so they rally to some cause as a way to deflect from what they perceive are their weaknesses

            The second group of people are those who, for whatever reason, never really developed a personality one way or another. As a result, they use their causes as a shortcut to deal with the social world around them, hoping that no one notices that there’s nothing behind the curtain, so to speak. They rely on their cause as a crutch to deal with people, and once you go beneath the surface, you can find someone who is truly socially challenged.

        • http://trulytafakari.com/ dtafakari

          If entertainment was formed in a culture vacuum, devoid of our biases, beliefs, and hopes about life: sure, things could be just entertainment. But even candy has a smidgen of nutritional value. To stamp something as entertainment to ward off critique or a deeper examining of cultural impact is intellectually lazy, for me. I can enjoy something for what it is, but also acknowledge that it, like all artistic endeavors, is affective.

          • http://www.twitter.com/IluminatiNYC Todd

            Maybe it’s my individualistic/libertarian tendencies coming out, but someone starts asking me about the deeper meanings of what’s lighter entertainment, my first thought is “what the hell is this (appropriate ethnic slur) trying to passive aggressively manipulate into supporting?” Perhaps it’s psychological trauma from my college days, but I don’t have time for people reading deeper meaning into Dora The Explorer, not to mention Coming To America. Come back with a proper political argument that I can address point by point, you (Anglo-Saxon obscenity) (Appropriate ethnic slur) and stop with the weak bull$hit.

            • afronica

              So when you analyze then pants off of something, are you pushing your libertarian agenda?

              And where’s the line? Democratic party machinations in the run up to this year’s midterms are worthy of analysis, I suppose. Whether or not there are any significant black characters in True Detective is not. How about which films get domestic distribution deals out of Sundance in a couple of weeks? Is that worth looking at or not?

              And who are you to decide?

            • Asiyah

              you’re very suspicious, Todd. not everyone’s pushing an agenda. some people do want to find deeper meanings in seemingly innocuous, everyday things.

              • http://www.twitter.com/IluminatiNYC Todd

                Guilty as charged. I’ll believe it’s curiosity when I see it. Then again, I’m mistrustful of anything that can be emotionally manipulated, so there’s that.

        • h.h.h.

          Can something just be entertainment? Life has its silly and ridiculous moments.

          agreed. there are times when the message is…there is no message. when people an_lyze entertainment like it’s a pHd project, i tend to lose interest. mainly because in a lot of cases, the criticism is being done as part of an overall agenda. then again…we all have our agendas *shrug*

          disclaimer: i mean no dis-respect to anyone that needs to carefully scrutinize, i guess for me i can no longer maintain the intellectual chops to consistently critique something as wide as entertainment to shape into something more palatable to myself or people that think like me.

          • Rachmo

            I’ve agreed with 99% of what @disqus_jaQFOkPNbv:disqus has said in 2014. I don’t know what’s happening

            • h.h.h.

              just give it time. lol.

              he’s opinionated, and eventually an opinion will tick you off. lol.

              • Rachmo

                Haha I’ve been waiting with bated breath. We might make it through January in total agreement and then I won’t know what to believe in anymore.

  • PaddyfotePrincess

    His mama call him Clay…Imma call him Clay.

    I appreciate Coming to America for what it is – a late 80s rom com.

    • The Champ

      it’s hard to believe it was made 25 years ago. until you watch it again and think “yup, this was made 25 years ago”

  • Msdebbs

    Yes everyone in Hollyweird hates black women. I generally like remakes so I’d watch the sequel/remake no matter if it was good or bad…..on bootleg.

    • http://stanoffewwords.wordpress.com/ Tristan

      Starring kevin hart and tyler perry…no thanks

  • kidvideo

    Busta Rhymes/Hype Williams remade the film for his video “Put Yo Hands where my eyes can see”

    Check for the Alek Wek cameo.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1chIpba4yQ4

  • Kim

    This post is so on point!! One day I was watching BAPS and I was so offended! LOL

    • Sigma_Since 93

      But that was Robert Towsend’s goal; he took our beloved Halle and made her rachet in the minds of the masses despite her cracked out roles in Jungle Fever and Losing Isiah.

      • http://brown-c6h12o6.tumblr.com/ AfroPetite

        I love goon Halle. I don’t care. Lol

        • Sigma_Since 93

          She was funny and human. The movie made It about her inner beauty because it was hard to get past the hair and gold tooth.

          • http://brown-c6h12o6.tumblr.com/ AfroPetite

            I know a grip of girls like Niecy (Nisi). Really good girls who people tend not to take too seriously at all because of their vernacular, choice of clothing/hairstyle, etc. Honestly, if I didn’t know many of them personally I’d look at them and judge them too.

            I’m trying to get better about that though.

            • afronica

              We’re all trying to get better about that. Witness Rachel Jeantel.

  • http://www.twitter.com/IluminatiNYC Todd

    The sad part is that you’re actually right. As much as that movie hits close to home, being that it’s a Black movie mostly set in my home borough of Queens, I would hear a LOT of shade about this movie if it came out today. (Sidebar: RIP to the “McDowell’s” Wendy’s on Queens Blvd. That, and the Soul Glo billboard location were right by the subway stop I got off at for high school.) People take their culture way to serious nowadays, and everyone with a Twitter account and a Facebook page would throw epic amounts of shade. Eddie Murphy would have to be the one running off to South Africa to find himself and some transgendered $ex workers to help him drown his sorrows.

    That said, CB4 is becoming way more relevant than I ever thought it would be long term. While the music itself is dated, we live in the CB4 mindset, with everyone taking themselves so seriously. I know life can be serious, but there is a such thing as too far. I wonder if these people with the CB4 mindset ever smile, let alone have the big O by any means. Nothing is THAT serious, especially about entertainment.

  • 321mena123

    Isn’t this true for a lot of things in music, art, and television?

    • http://stanoffewwords.wordpress.com/ Tristan

      Pretty much, i watched house party recently…there’s no way in that prison rap happens in 2014

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