Stereotypes in Coming to America

In 1998, John Landis directed a film, Coming to America, starring comedian Eddie Murphy. Eddie Murphy played the character of Akeem, a extremely rich prince who departures Zamunda to search for a partner to become his future Queen. In the wealthy country of Zamunda, it was accustomed for the King and Queen to arrange the marriage of the Prince. However, Akeem was not fond of this and decided that if he was allowed 40 days to experience an outside land, he would be able to find a partner. I mean who can blame him? Because the United States is commonly known as the “land of the free” and the “land of opportunity,” Akeem assumes that he will have just as much opportunity as everyone else in America. Come to find out, America as a whole isn’t quite as accepting or friendly when introduced to a nation that is completely different then our own.

No matter how free we are in the United States of America, the country as a whole continually will allow separation between other nations because of our close-minded approach to other cultures. A quote written back in 1998 sums up this idea of accountability.

“We all use stereotypes, all the time, without even knowing it. We have met the enemy of equality, and the enemy is us.”

Today, Africa is home to so many diverse populations that have all brought different concepts to the continent. Zamunda, the African nation fictionalized in the film, is stated to be one of the richest nations in the world. Now as a predominately African nation, a lot of those historical traditions and rituals have been present here and are seen as necessary components of life. Foreign to the idea of common traditions, America switches this idea into a stereotype instead. A stereotype can be defined as simply as, “a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing.” A major difference between the two nations lies with the acceptance of other cultures. As Akeem and Semmi begin to journey America, they brought their own clothing, habits, accent, etc., which had allowed for people to establish nicknames for them like “Kunta Kinte.” While the movie portrays America as very impugning or critical of the Zamundian culture, the people of Zamunda aren’t seen as very judgmental throughout the entire film.

Throughout the film, many other stereotypes come about. For instance, when Akeem and his father are walking outside during his arranged wedding, a zebra and some elephants are just casually walking past. Now although African animals are very prosperous, I don’t believe every one in Africa has these animals walking in their backyard. Another stereotype that is seen in this movie, falls on the poor choice of words that Akeem used when trying to impress his American woman Lisa. Akeem tells Lisa that he is a goat herder back home rather than a prince. This statement takes out the significance of being a prince in an extremely wealthy nation and, instead, replaces it with a stereotypical job for the African community. These stereotypes, along with many others, are merely used for comic relief and only produce negative interpretations in the movie Coming to America.

Picture of Zamunda from the film Coming to America

Although many of the stereotypes are said in a comical way, I believe that this misleads the audience to make a joke out of it rather than see that it is a misrepresentation. No matter what minority, stereotypes are made to dehumanize a person as a whole. For the sake of the movie, I understand the directors decision to do this to give depth to the plot, but I do believe that using stereotypes was one of the biggest and most hurtful themes in this film. As an American, this movie made me realize that judgement of a book cover (a person’s appearance) only weakens the overall rating of the book (a person) before even understanding the material inside. We should all try to challenge ourselves to destroy stereotypes of all kinds and alternatively be more open to accepting the material of people who may not be the same as us.

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