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Ever since the invention of moving images in the late nineteenth century, the film industry has become a great tool to help in displaying some profound truths in the society in a factious and comedy way, in a manner that would have never been possible before. Through the movie, then the audience can interact with a dreamland and feel and express themes such as love, war, and oppression in society. In his book Time Passages: Collective Memory and American Popular Culture, George Lipsitz states that; "Instead of relating to the past through a shared sense of place or ancestry, consumers of electronic mass media can experience a common heritage with people they have never seen" (Lipsitz, 1997). According to Lipsitz, the rise of film and mass media should bring a shared consciousness by people of all walks and culture, but this is not always true as images shown in the films and mass media misrepresents some culture with a negative and skewed stereotype. This inaccurate representation of a particular religion is very vivid in the movie, Coming to America.
The film is a 1988 American comedy directed by John Landis with a story created by Eddie Murphy. Eddie playing as Prince Akeem is a prince from a fictional wealth African nation of Zamunda. He has grown up in a filthy lifestyle where he is catered with everything, including bathing. Prince Akeem is not amused by these offers and wants more freedom. When his time for marrying comes, his parents, King Jaffe and Queen Aeoleon organize an arranged bride for him, but he declines the offer and seeks the king to offer him forty days to go out and experience the world before his planned wedding. In his request for freedom, Prince Akeem escapes to America, accompanied by his aide, Semmi, in such for a wife. He disguises himself as an international student and comes across Lisa, whom she woes but finds it hard to reveal his true identity and his intentions. By going to America, Prince Akeem hopes to find his freedom and opportunity in a land known as free to all, but what he finds is the exact opposite.
Though the film has received many acclamations and praises, it follows the steps of most of Hollywood movies, which have been to represent people of color as retrogressive and backward negatively. The film begins with images of half-naked African girls bathing the prince. It is a negative representation of black women as objects and slaves of male dominance. There are objects of men satisfaction and have no say but to make men achieve their evil motives.
Though Zamunda has been represented in the film as a fictional African wealthy nation, the same has been portrayed as holding to historical strict traditions and culture. Africa is a home for a diverse population with diverse culture and traditions, but even with modernization and economic advancements, the film portrays Africa as still holding to these cultures and traditions. Though these traditions are foreign to America, they are presented as a stereotype as they are represented as being uncivilized in which Prince Akeem has to free himself from, and the only haven in America.
In the film, giraffes and elephants are shown roaming in the palace (Folsey & Landis, 1988). Though this is a correct representation of the abundant wildlife wealth in Africa, their roaming in the castle is to be viewed by a typical white American as an old tale of Africa. According to the story, Africa is a county with beautiful landscape, wildlife animals, and uncivilized people. The representation of the king wearing a lion skin helps to advance this belief. As Adichie explains it, if one knew the story of Africa only from western movies, he would see Africa as a land of beautiful scenes with a large population of wild animals, whose people are incomprehensive, poverty-stricken and looking for a foreign savior (Adichie, 2009).
As suggested in the movie, African Americans are made to have a negative perspective of their own as represented by Hollywood movies rather than from their findings. The film shows Africa as a place with feudal hierarchy, feminism, and organized marriages.
As with all other Hollywood movies, the film is direct by John Landis, a white man writing the story of Africa is, negative stereotype as it represents Africans as people who cannot write their story. The story of Africans is to be written by African who has a better understanding of African heritage and traditions. When the story is written and directed by white, it loses its African taste and portrays people of color as people who are not yet civilized.
Sexism is another major theme in the movie. It portrays African women as nothing more but sex objects. The most objectified images are those of almost naked bodies of black women bathing the prince. Through the use of objectification and submissiveness of women of color, Hollywood misrepresents African women as inferior objects in a dominant male culture where women are to satisfy the sexual desires of men. Other than the queen, the only other woman who is allowed to speak in more than one line, is that of former prince's bride to be who is depicted as the mindless robot only trained to say yes and comply with all prince's demands. The queen-to-be has been trained since birth to submissive and obeys all the orders of her husband. For instance, Akeem asks her to bark like a dog which she follows without questioning. By this misrepresentation, coupled with the under representing of African women, Hollywood depicts them as nothing less than just servants who have no place in the society. Despite the whitewashing of these characters, the film displays them as sexists and considered to lack the superior western ideology.
The movie also stereotypes people of color, as evident in its whitewashed portray of Africa (Folsey & Landis, 1988). The movies historical and anachronistic presentation of Africa as seen through Zamunda, a fictional African nation is that of white dressed in Africanness taking wine and speaking sophisticated cling. Whitewashing is the act of having white actors playing the role of non-white. It is an excellent problem of minority filmmakers and actors asShohat and Stam state white beauty has been regarded as the standard even in a majority of non-white countries, due to the dominance of white culture in and Anglo Ethnocentrism which exists as "the mythical norms of Eurocentric esthetics" (Shohat&Stam, 2014). The casting of white actors to present people of color, ignoring contributions and talents in black and other people of color is a demeaning and racial misrepresentation. The audiences of the film are denied an opportunity to know the real culture and characters of blacks as an outsider gives their story. By having white people play the roles of black in the movie, it shows whom Hollywood values. As the film industry is white dominant, blacks are left with no choice but to play these stereotype roles.
As the Coming to America season two gets released, this letter is to have the director of the movie address stereotypes issues present in season one of the movie. A time has come for the people of color to write their own story and tell their own culture. It is inappropriate to have Hollywood directors continue to undermine Black American as a group of people whose position is only in serving and satisfying the white man. It is also wrong to overshadow their performance in a film that is written to tell their own story. Hollywood director should appreciate the talent and the creativity of characters of color as witnessed by Lupita Nyongo, a Kenyan Mexican actress of Luo Descent, who won the prestigious academy award for best supporting actress. The success and award of people of color is an eye-opener that blacks can act and shine in their movies, even in Hollywood, and they should, therefore, be given a chance to do so.
Amongst changes that I would prefer to see in the movies if it gets rewritten (and what Coming to America season two offers a chance for), is the dominance of native black playing their role. Murphy should allow black to be black and not white actors disguising so. The disguise has even lost the scent of the English language spoken by the so-called Africans. They speak a dialect that has no African origin, and the film can thus only make relevance to a white American who has no connection with Africa. The black women, who are shown at the beginning of the film, have to be black. It is only that way that the message can reach home, and blacks' feel appreciated but not demeaned.
The other change that I will be looking forward to seeing is the appreciation of black women as people with dignity and have their rightful place in society. Black Americans and Africans, in general, have significantly developed in culture, and women have gotten equal rights in the community. Looking at them through a lens of feminism is racism, inappropriate, and dehumanizing. Women are not sex objects and slaves of a male-dominated society. They have to be given their equal share in the community. By overshadowing them as only submissive and having no say, Murphy has presented African women as backward and retrogressive. The act undressing them and having them objectified in the movie advances the stereotype view of women of color. I, therefore, expect to see a correction of this error and see African women as having the dignity as the one accorded to their male counterparts.
The image of Africa should also be portrayed as to be what it is. The film represents Africa as a country with a rich natural heritage and wealth of wild animals, but whose occupants are still retrogressing and holding to taboos and other outdated traditions despite economic advancement. It is a paradox to represent Zamunda, a fictional African country, as a country with a rich king but having the king still holding some backward practices. The actual image of Africans has to be drawn as a country not only advancing economically but culturally as well. The prince does also not have to go to America to get a princess (Folsey & Landis, 1988). The reason prince Akeem goes to America to search for a wife is that he believes that his countrywomen lack freedom and are uncivilized and the only haven for him is America, where people are civilized and with total freedom.
I look forward to seeing African women freed and given a room for civilization to the extent whereby the prince can get a princess in the country.
Adichie, C. N., (2009). The Danger of a Single Story.
Folsey, G & Landis, J. (1988). Coming to America (Motion Picture). United States: Paramount Pictures.
Lipsitz, G., (1997). Time Passages: Collective Memory and American Popular Culture. U of Minnesota Press.
Shohat, E., &Stam, R., (2014). Unthinking Eurocentrism: Multiculturalism and the Media. Routledge.
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