It's taken a little longer than usual for a box office smash to beget a sequel. In "Coming to America," Eddie Murphy played Prince Akeem, from the African kingdom of Zamunda - a man hoping to find a wife in Queens. That film was released in 1988. Now, 33 years later, Akeem, and quite a few of the characters around him (many of them played by Murphy and many others by his co-star Arsenio Hall), return in "Coming 2 America," with a story - and another visit to America - that picks up 33 years after the first.
There had been talk of a follow-up film all along, but it wasn't until about five years ago that things really began cooking, as far as getting a script and a cast together. Murphy recently spoke about the new film during a Zoom call press conference.
Q: What did it finally take for the sequel to happen?
A: Well, it was maybe about three drafts of the script in when we got it to where the structure and the narrative thread was strong enough for me to say, "OK, we have a movie here. Now we just have to bring a young writer in and put that modern spin on it." Enter Kenya Barris ("Barbershop: The Next Cut," "Shaft").
Q: The script Kenya worked on was written by Barry Blaustein and David Sheffield, who wrote the original film. But aside from bringing them back, you also brought back a lot of the characters from "Coming to America." Was that difficult?
A: We wanted to bring everybody back from the original. Actually, it was like, OK we have to start from where the story left off. The last time you saw the Eriq La Salle character (Darryl) and the Lisa McDowell sister (played by Shari Headley) he was soaking wet, she said, "We got to get you out of these clothes," and that implied that they were going to be together. But me and Lisa went off happily ever after. So, it was like, OK, how do you connect the dots? We thought it would be kind of funny if McDowell opened a McDowell's in Africa, and it was so that he could be there. It was like, who would make the most sense? That's how we picked who would be in the movie.
Q: Along with lots of people returning, including James Earl Jones as your father, there are some different actors playing the older characters, notably Wesley Snipes taking over the part of Colonel Izzi, who's now General Izzi. Yet you and Arsenio are still doing multiple roles.
A: I was originally going to play Wesley's character. I was also going to be the Witch Doctor, who ended up being played by Arsenio. I had started thinking about how long it would take to do all of these makeups, and I figured the Witch Doctor would take six hours. Then Arsenio said, "Well, I'll do it!" And I said, "OK, that's all right. You go do it!" There was one point before that where Arsenio was at one of Dave Chappelle's shows and he told Dave that we were doing "Coming 2 America." And Dave said, "I want to be in it." So, we were talking about having him play the Witch Doctor, but the scheduling didn't work out.
Q: What are your thoughts about the legacy of the first film and how all of that fits in with the new one?
A: Well, "Coming to America" is the first movie in the history of movies that had an all-Black cast that was successful all around the world. There's very few movies that have had all-Black casts that have been successful all around the world. You could count them on one hand, and you'll have fingers leftover. And "Coming 2 America," just like the first film, is accessible to all audiences. It's just about family, and love, and doing the right thing, and tradition. And it has these amazing images of Black kings and queens and princesses. "Black Panther" did the same thing. That was the second movie that had Black kings and queens. The first one was "Coming to America." And the third one is "Coming 2 America." It's just people in the movie telling this story about human beings, stuff that everybody can relate to. The themes are timeless. Love and all this, marrying somebody who you really love. A lot of that is in it. "Fiddler on the Roof" has a lot of things like that, and there are similar themes in "Coming 2 America."
"Coming 2 America" premiers on Amazon Prime on March 5.