When thinking of early Eddie Murphy films, there are probably many that come tomind, but “Coming to America” is bound to be one of the first. Directed by John Landis, the 1988 film is a comedy about a prince from a fictional African kingdomwho ventures to America to find a wife. It’s inaccurate in many ways, but hilariousin plenty of others. The film saw Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall at their comedicprime, taking on wildly different characters in a Queens, New York setting thatserved as a backdrop for the “culture shock” that their newcomers to the countryencounter. No matter how many times you’ve seen the film, there are certainmoments that bring uncontrollable laughter. Here are a few:
Soul Glo: This fictional hair product became synonymous with the infamous Jheri curl and with the sinister allure of Darryl (played by Eriq La Salle), whose family owns the brand. In Akeem (Murphy) and Semmi’s (Hall) introduction to Queens, they see a commercial for Soul Glo in which black people are struck by animated thunderbolts, delivering an illustrious sheen and wetness to their hair. Swinging their moist locks from side to side, a disastrously high-pitched vocal sings: “Just let your soul glow/ just let it shine through / put it on so silky smooth.” More hilarious than the actual commercial is a scene where Darryl and his family—all equipped with Jheri curls—get up from sitting on a couch and leave three large oil stains on it. The camera stays on the Jheri curl stains for a good moment, and no one can deny the hilarity.
“She’s your queen to be”: With no instrumental accompaniment, this song is delivered at the highest pitch known to man by the adorable actor Paul Bates. With lyrics like: “She’s your queen to be/ A vision of perfection / An object of affection / To quench your royal fire,” the song was imitated in living rooms for years to come, and probably made its ways into more than a few mock marriage proposals.
“What is that, velvet?!?”: A classic line from Saul, one of Eddie Murphy’s many elderly characters, when he feels real fur for the first time on the coat of the newly-arrived Akeem. With his thick Queens lisp and powdery face, he sits in a barbershop debating everything from boxing to the civil rights movement with the other men, providing Hakeem and Semmi with hilarious insight into the land they’ve just entered.
“The Greatest Love of All”: Randy Watson and his band, aptly named Sexual Chocolate, perform to an unenthused crowd at a black awareness rally. As one of Murphy’s comic personalities, the singer plows through this Whitney Houston classic in a Jheri curl of his own and a tight, ruffled sky blue suit. Applause is scarce and scattered as he drops the microphone and walks off-stage. In the audience, one of the elderly men from the barbershop comments, “That boy good!” Another responds: “Yeah, good and terrible.” That pretty much sums it up.
That dance scene: Feather headdresses, drums, flips and bodies flying through the air make this scene one of the best in the film. Choreographed by Paula Abdul, it comes suddenly, without expectation and gives the viewer a vibrant introduction into the fictional world “Coming to America” seeks to create. Shot wide, the precision of the choreography becomes grand and entrancing. When the film came out on VHS, it was definitely a “watch again” rewind moment.
The wedding: No matter how many times you watch this, Lisa’s (played by Shari Headley) reemergence into the film during the final wedding scene is still one of the best surprises, after she rejects Akeem’s wedding proposal in a prior sequence. When Akeem pulls back the bride’s veil and she’s revealed in an elaborate pink wedding gown, a certain joy is felt. Shots of Lisa’s father, Cleo (played by John Amos), standing on the throne with King Jaffe Joffer (played by James Earl Jones), make Akeem and Lisa’s union all the more satisfying. Cultural and familial conflicts have all been resolved and we are excited for Lisa’s acceptance of Akeem’s royal lineage. What better ending to a film like this?
Are you laughing yet? Or better yet, just remembering? These are some of the standout moments in “Coming to America.” What scenes, moments, or characters still make you laugh?
Editor’s Note: Shadow and Act partnered with XFINITY to celebrate Black entertainment. Be sure to visit xfinity.com/celebrateblacktv, a unique digital community built around the love of Black TV, film, sports, music and more. Shadow and Act hopes to enrich this community and provide a launching pad for insightful discussion. Look to Shadow and Act for features and content examining and exploring key themes and topics that run throughout the history of Black entertainment.