(The Root) — When Coming to America premiered 25 years ago, on June 29, 1988, it was an instant classic — and the third-highest-grossing film of the year. The Eddie Murphy comedy, about a prince from a fictional African country who comes to the U.S. to find his future queen, tops plenty of fans’ funniest-movie-of-all-time lists. But not everyone finds it hilarious.
Amuache Emenari, a 26-year-old Washington, D.C., native whose parents are from Nigeria, told The Root that certain scenes from the film make him grimace.
“It wasn’t funny to me,” said the computer engineer. “I wasn’t a fan of the depictions of the wild animals roaming about, of African royalty or of the accents.”
But Shaun Ossei-Owusu — a 27-year-old Bronx, N.Y.-born Ph.D. candidate in the University of California, Berkeley’s African-American studies department — told The Root that Coming to America is “one of my favorite movies ever.” A child of Ghanaian parents, he doesn’t recall taking issue with the way Africans were portrayed when he first watched the film as a kid back in the early 1990s.
These opinions about Coming to America reflect the contrasting views — among Americans one generation removed from the Motherland — about a film that revolves around Africa and Africans. The Root spoke to several first-generation African Americans to explore the degree to which class, culture and the perception of Africa explain why the film has been embraced by so many.
Ossei-Owusu described the depiction of Africans in the film as having “The Cosby Show effect” because it countered the not-so-flattering stereotypes that persist for Africans. “Yes, Africans can have bread,” he said. “They can stay at the Waldorf Astoria. They can have extravagant weddings. They can be intelligent and charming.” Eddie Murphy’s character, Akeem, and his family were rich and cultured — a characterization that is rare in TV and film.