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Under Her Eye review: Coming to America

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Read the shortlisted Under Her Eye reviews then vote for your favourite.

As part of Stylist’s Under Her Eye initiative, we’re on the hunt for three new female film critics. We asked aspiring reviewers to send in a 450-word review of their favourite film – and after an overwhelming response, we’ve whittled it down to a shortlist of 20. 

Read one woman’s review of Coming to America below and click here to see the other entries and vote for your favourite.

Coming to America arrived on our screens at the peak of an era saturated by flashy epics such as Top Gun, which served to glorify America through celluloid - at the same time countless news reports reinforced the demonisation of Africa through relentless images of a war-torn, poverty-stricken, rampant-with-AIDS ‘third world.’

Just four years after Band Aid’s stratospheric Christmas hit announced that the second largest continent was ‘a world of dread and fear…where nothing ever grows, no rain or rivers flow…’, CTA was the first mainstream Hollywood film to reveal a rich and orderly Africa that many Westerners had no idea existed.

Starring and based on a concept by Eddie Murphy (arguably the best and definitely the funniest actor of the ‘80s), CTA saw him use the influence and power accrued by hits like ‘48 Hours’ and ‘Beverly Hills Cop’, to give us something quite remarkable and radical, even by today’s standards.

Yes, CTA is a predictable ‘girl meets boy’-style fairytale. But this time, the ‘boy’ is Prince Akeem (Murphy), heir to the throne of the fictional Kingdom of Zamunda, who shuns the embarrassingly servile, slightly robotic arranged wife ‘prepared’ for him by his father, King Jaffe (James Earl Jones). Instead, Akeem chooses to travel to Queens, New York, in search of a woman who will ‘arouse his intellect’.

The Africa we see in opening scenes is the portrayal of one particularly opulent, indulgent kingdom in Zamunda and the plight of its pampered Prince. Some critics have overlooked this distinction, dismissing it as a limited portrayal of the entire continent, as well as claiming that the film objectifies and demeans women.

But such critiques miss the point.

CTA arrived decades before the #MeToo movement and, yes, it presents clear examples of much that is wrong in films concerning roles for and the representation of women – from the proliferation of the ‘trophy’ wife role, to the naked royal bathers and docile flower bearers. However, Shari Headley (Akeem’s love interest, Lisa), together with Madge Sinclair (Queen Aoleon of Zamunda), brilliantly pull off the gracious yet assertive, no-nonsense female roles allocated, which is often overlooked.

If you’re looking for a Spike Lee style polemic then you won’t get it here.

Yet, the genius of this film is that while other big hits continued to have merely ‘quota filling’ minor roles for black actors, who were usually peripheral to the plot or killed off early, Murphy turned the industry on its head by taking the age-old rom-com and ripping apart the cast from all-white to all-black. In one fell swoop!

It may possess a cheesy ‘happy’ ending, but it also challenged the white male dominance of film that we are still fighting today.

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