Thirty years before “Black Panther,” Eddie Murphy’s 1980s comedy classic “Coming to America” disproved the stubborn Hollywood myth that films with Black casts flop overseas; it earned nearly $300 million worldwide.
Now that Marvel’s African superhero blockbuster has smashed that misbelief for good with its billion-dollar box office haul, Murphy has decided it’s time for a sequel: “Coming 2 America” is out on March 5.
But according to Murphy, the global success of the two predominantly Black franchises has nothing to do with any growing interest in racial politics and history, or in movements like today’s Black Lives Matter — but instead in old-fashioned, universal storytelling.
“Most of our movies, they shine a light on some social injustice or some civil unrest… (but) around the world they don’t give a shit about that,” said Murphy.
“‘Coming 2 America’ is not about any of those things. It’s just about family and love and doing the right thing and tradition.”
Murphy’s comments come as Hollywood has been launching a flood of prestigious Black cast-led movies about the civil rights movement which are hotly tipped for Oscars glory, including “Judas and the Black Messiah” and “One Night in Miami.”
Whether modern global audiences will respond to those films will be hard to gauge, with movie theaters still closed due to Covid-19. Indeed, “Coming 2 America” was made by Paramount but sold to Amazon’s streaming service during the pandemic.
Speaking at a recent press day, Murphy expressed pride that the original “Coming to America” was “the first movie in the history of movies that had an all-Black cast that was successful all around the world.”
But since then you can count “on one hand” the Hollywood films that have repeated that international success — “and you’ll have fingers left over,” said the 59-year-old star.
“The legacy of this movie is that it’s accessible to all audiences,” Murphy added. “The reason why our movies don’t go around the world is because our story is provocative (only) to us. Around the world they don’t give a shit about our stuff.”
– ‘It was magical’ –
Set decades after Murphy’s pampered prince hit New York in search of true love, “Coming 2 America” sees the veteran comic play an elder monarch seeking a long-lost male heir to save his fictional African kingdom.
Murphy said his new film shares royal DNA with 2018 smash hit “Black Panther,” which starred the late Chadwick Boseman and was praised for its message of pan-African unity.
“These amazing images of Black kings and queens and princesses… ‘Black Panther’ did it,” said Murphy.
“The very first one was ‘Coming to America,'” he added.
The sequel is packed with real-life Black showbiz royalty, from actors Wesley Snipes, Tracy Morgan and James Earl Jones to a number of extremely high-profile, surprise musical guests.
“Let me just say that there is not a Black actor — older, middle-aged or younger — in this town, or any town, that didn’t want to have just a little piece of this movie,” said comedian Luenell, who also stars.
Adding to the sense of dynasty, Eddie’s daughter Bella appears as one of the young Amazonian princesses.
The 19-year-old admitted to journalists she was nervous when she had to hit “Wesley Snipes in the head” during a memorable fight scene with the “Blade” action-movie legend, but was desperate to take part after re-watching her father in the original.
“It was cool to see my dad like that, because that was the first time I saw images of Black royalty on screen… and even cooler that it was my dad,” she said. “I felt really empowered.”
The movie was shot at Tyler Perry Studios, the self-contained 330-acre (130-hectare) production “campus” at a Civil War-era Confederate military base in Atlanta, Georgia owned by Black entertainment mogul Perry.
“It was magical, that this brother created this,” said returning co-star Arsenio Hall.
“There were days I’m standing with Tracy Morgan, and Leslie [Jones]… on the Tyler Perry lot, laughing my ass off. It was the greatest experience,” he added.
“Coming 2 America” launches worldwide on Prime Video from March 5.