Coming 2 America, streaming on Amazon Prime Video, is a sequel to the 1988 film Coming To America. Both films exist between two worlds — Queens, the Black bastion in New York, and Zamunda, the Black idyllic kingdom in Africa. In the 1988 film, Eddie Murphy plays Prince Akeem of Zamunda, who has to find himself a suitable bride within 40 days. He sojourns to the world beyond, Queens, to find himself the wife his kingdom is unable to cough up.
Coming 2 America, released thirty years later, begins with the 30th wedding anniversary of Prince Akeem and Princess Lisa (Shari Headley), being celebrated with their three fierce daughters. This film is about succession, where the Prince will soon be named king and thus, must name a male heir, per the dated laws of Zamunda. He finds out that he has a son in Queens, from a hazy, drunken night he spent thirty years prior. His mission in this movie is to bring his son back and crown him prince. Jermaine Fowler plays the son, Lavelle Junson, a drifter with a strong sense of who he is.
As is evident, this is not just a world with Black characters. It is a Black world in itself, and the film is thus detailed with the precision of world-building. There is a unique black aesthetic that the film brings forth — a fixation on hair that is either let free or bundled up under gold and cloth, Ankara African wax prints, and an ease with both ornate gold and Puma athleisure.
The exaggerated glamour, and stylized casuals are at once aspirational and symbolic. Deborah Nadoolman Landis designed the costumes for the 1988 film, and its shadows hang over this film as well. The delicate blush pink wedding dress of Princess Lisa, and the exaggerated lion on the shoulder of a coat, are both channeled here, as noted by Ruth E Carter, the costume designer of this film. (This time, instead of an actual lion, they went cruelly free and 3-D printed a lion that he wears as jewelry.)
Carter, a regular collaborator with Spike Lee, also won the Oscar for Best Costume Design for her afro-futuristic work in Black Panther. In that film too, her work involved creating an African kingdom, Wakanda, albeit a different one from Zamunda, because blackness isn’t a monolith.
She noted in an interview with The Washington Post that getting the aesthetic right involved mood-boards, pinterest, and fabrics sourced from over 40 collaborators and African designers, like Kutula, Laduma Maxhosa, and Mantsho, the first African designer to collaborate with H&M. In addition to designers in Atlanta where they shot the film, Carter also collaborated with couturier JJ Valaya who has contributed 18 costumes for this film, worn by Murphy and Headley, among others. The fabrics, embroideries, and techniques used by Valaya are predominantly Indian, a nod to the cross-continental shared cultural heritage.
In the film we see a distinct maximalism, a lot of stacking of jewelry, and a flood of accessories — armlets, necklaces, pendants, crowns, frills—, Gele head wraps and Nefertiti earrings. They’re always accessorizing, with sharp details (some wigs took up to three weeks to construct). Even in sporty scenes of lion-fights and friendly combats, if the neck is empty, it is compensated by a silver armlet, or a golden nose ring. Body-fitting scuba fabrics, and gold girdles are balanced out with rich flowing capes. It’s thus a capacious aesthetic, that allows for both air and awe.
In collaboration with Amazon Prime Video