By Anita Eboigbe
People make films for different reasons and people watch films for different reasons. In the same vein, film success is measured by different metrics. For most, it is financial success, then awards, positive audience reactions, and global acclaim. If the filmmaker hit jackpot, he/she can get all of the aforementioned. Well, life isn’t fair and art is subjective, so most films just get parts of the metrics.
Eddie Murphy’s 1988 flick ‘Coming to America’ got all and went on to be branded as a timeless classic. The story followed a prince from a fictional African country, Zamunda, who travels to America to find true love. Filled with jokes that were representative of Murphy’s career direction at the time, the film heralded a phase of ‘African prince searches for love’ story tropes that Nollywood became obsessed with.
Movie Review: Can You Like ‘Coming 2 America’ And Still Critique Nollywood?
The storyline has been replayed over and over. Prince is bored with his lifestyle and the bland female choices available to marry due to his status, he goes to a city, disguises himself, and finds an underprivileged girl who tickles his fancy. He falls hopelessly in love and his real identity is revealed but his family objects. Some rigmarole happens and everybody comes back to the table, and they live happily ever after.
Although this storyline was not new, the 1988 ‘Coming to America’ told it through an African and deeply cultural lens that increased its appeal to upcoming film industries, especially Nollywood. In the last decade, clips of these old Nollywood films have resurfaced and have been heavily scrutinized and memed.
Criticism for the storylines and production value of old Nollywood films has become a huge part of pop culture. Similar snarky comments have started to hit new Nollywood. The productions are better but the formulaic storylines and its sometimes poor execution have had filmmakers asking – what does the Nollywood audience really want?
While old Nollywood might have adopted a storyline from ‘Coming to America’, it appears the sequel looked to new Nollywood for inspiration. The film has all the elements of a commercial success-hungry Nollywood film that has no intention of doing anything other than taking money from the audience and give almost nothing in return.
First, it is filled with stars upon stars, who are left to grapple with the place of their roles in the plot. Next, it has a ton of musical performances designed to draw in the artists’ communities. The film also has a storyline with the plot and an ending that is crystal clear from the first scene and lastly, it sells itself with the community curated by the filmmakers from the prequel and other projects over the years. This film is a new-age Nollywood film with better cosmetics. It is a perfect ‘Nigeria to the world’ moment that has nothing to do with Davido’s or Burna Boy’s music features.
The formula in ‘Coming 2 America’, employed recently in several Nollywood films especially ‘The Wedding Party 2′, ‘Quam’s Money’ and all the ‘Alakada’ sequels ever produced, has had the Nigerian audience accuse Nollywood of blatant disrespect. Interestingly, these films are also among some of the highest-grossing because the formula is designed to pull people together for different reasons. The result is a massive one-time watch after which the film is never spoken of again, till the filmmakers come up with more tricks to sell other films.
The heavy reliance on party tricks is the main reason why ‘Coming 2 America’ leaves Wesley Snipes high and dry in his role as General Izzi. Snipes is the real star of the show and shines through his scenes although he has little or no material to work with.
This sequel relies heavily on your knowledge of the first film that it does its best to mirror it efficiently. But this is not the main problem. It is the fact that one can perceive the nonchalance, evident in most recent Nollywood films, as this Hollywood flick plays on.
The real question is – is it okay to love ‘Coming 2 America’ and still criticise Nollywood films with the same formula? Is it cool to remember that films are made for different reasons and not all films ought to be deep yet hold disdain for Nollywood films of the same kind?
Murphy’s film is getting the flak it deserves and reviews have been written about the laziness in this sequel. Some audience members have also shared similar sentiments but there is the fight between logic and nostalgia. People know the film could have done more but it is a huge part of people’s childhoods and lives, so the reactions are subdued in a way.
For Nollywood filmmakers that might want to use this as an excuse to keep churning out meaningless works that end up being huge commercials where more time is spent perfecting a formula than actually making movies, it is advised that they take a moment to pause.
Murphy’s film is saved by 30+ years of nostalgia. Nollywood filmmakers don’t have this, yet. They need to assess the reception of this Hollywood film that has mirrored Nollywood’s formula and note that it is held together by factors that can easily fall apart. It is true that not all films should be award-winning or social commentaries, but films ought to be worth the while.
Nollywood, an industry that is just coming up globally, should be obsessed with making films with great re-watch value. They lay the foundation for filmmakers to make almost anything they like, decades later. The audience, with ‘Coming 2 America’, has shown that its criticism is not a Nollywood problem but a ‘poorly made film’ problem.