Semmi: ...but where will you find such a woman?
Prince Akeem: In America!
1988 comedy starring the underrated comedic duo of Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall (before his show).
Heir to the throne of Zamunda, Prince Akeem Joffer (Eddie Murphy) spends his days being pampered and spoiled by all those who serve him; he is not even allowed to dress himself or tie his own shoes. This lifestyle has grown frustrating for the young prince, especially when it comes to his future bride being chosen for him without his say. Akeem implores his father, King Jaffe Joffer (James Earl Jones), to allow him to choose his own wife, but the monarch declares that the prince cannot defy tradition and insists that the courtship ceremony continue that evening on Akeem's 21st birthday.
That night, Akeem meets his future bride. She is beautiful, obedient and completely unable to think for herself. Despite his best efforts, Akeem cannot convince her to act as anything other than a mindless slave. He resolves that he will find his own wife; a woman with grace, elegance, taste and culture who loves him for his personality, while still having the kind of strength of will he can respect — a woman suitable for a king. Tricking his father into letting him travel before getting married, Akeem takes his best friend and servant, Semmi (Arsenio Hall), and heads out to find his future queen. Never having been to North America, the duo decide to conduct their search in the most logical place they can think of: Queens, New York City.
Akeem and Semmi pose as poor African college students while they conduct their search, but being naive to the way America works they can only attract women with serious emotional problems. Akeem is almost ready to give up until, one night, he attends a rally where he lays eyes on Lisa McDowell. She is his dream in every way and Akeem is convinced that he has found his future Queen, but there's only one problem: she's already taken...
Considered something of a Spiritual Successor to Trading Places, also directed by John Landis and starring Eddie Murphy. The story was conceived by Eddie Murphy and Art Buchwald (though Murphy was given sole credit for its conception in the credits, something that Buchwald wasn't too happy about). It enjoyed both domestic and worldwide success when it was released, even grabbing a couple of Academy Award nominations for costumes and makeup. The film is also notable for being the first in which Eddie Murphy plays more than one role, a trend that he would continue throughout the rest of his career.
In 2019, Eddie Murphy confirmed that a sequel is in the works (titled Coming 2 America) and is set to be released on December 18, 2020.
This film contains examples of:
- Abhorrent Admirer:
- Subverted at Akeem's ceremony where he meets his bride-to-be. When the bride's father first introduces his daughter, a large woman pushes her way through the audience, but it turns out she's only introducing the bride. Akeem is just as abhorred by the beautiful Extreme Doormat who is supposed to be his bride. Played straight in the Terrible Interviewees Montage, with a woman, played by Arsenio Hall, who "want[s] to tear [Akeem]" apart as well as Semmi, making him Spit Take.
- If his Breaking the Fourth Wall at the end is any indication, Darryl doesn't seem to be overly pleased at being the subject of Lisa's sister's amorous intentions.
- Actor Allusion: As King Jaffe Joffer, James Earl Jones tells Cleo McDowell "Do not alert him [Akeem] to my presence. I will deal with him myself.", referencing two different lines as Darth Vader in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.
- Adipose Rex: King Joffer is one, seeing as he's played by James Earl Jones.
- Alter Kocker: Played by Eddie Murphy, of all people.
- Alternate History: A Type 2 on the Sliding Scale of Alternate History Plausibility.
- At one point, James Earl Jones remarked on how his royal marriage had been arranged. So the codified Zamundan monarchy went back at least three generations. That means Zamunda was a monarchy at least as far back as the end of World War I. Once the Ottoman Empire royalty was broken, old-style monarchy slowly disappeared from Darkest Africa. But in this world, Zamunda not only survived amongst post-colonial dictatorships and nascent plutocracies, it flourished. And it retained a strict European-style royal court, which held real power. Arsenio Hall may be a bit of a Upper-Class Twit and a Right-Hand Hottie, but he expects to be the right hand of the king of an entire country. That's some Borgia-level shit.
- On the other hand, there are some hints in the film - such as Zamunda using the pound as its currency, Akeem and Lisa's wedding ceremony being a Christian one (which would imply that the Royal Family and hence most of the country was Christian; this isn't impossible, as Congo, Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi all traditionally have Catholic monarchies), Zamundan police and soldiers wearing British-style uniforms, the mentioned popularity of soccer - that suggest that Zamunda was influenced by British rule. It may very well have been a British protectorate at one point, like Lesotho, Botswana, Swaziland and Uganda, for example. Lesotho and Swaziland are also two of the three remaining monarchies in Africa (Morocco is the third).
- Animal Reaction Shot: Dottie, the little dog at Cleo's place, even giving the audience Aside Glance.
- Arranged Marriage: Akeem is given a bride as a 21st birthday present.
- Aside Glance: See Breaking the Fourth Wall.
- Atomic F-Bomb: "YES! YES! FUCK YOU TOO!!!", but said in a joyful mood.
- Badass Bass: King Jaffe Jofer, thanks to the booming voice of James Earl Jones.
- Beta Couple: Darryl and Lisa.
- Big Applesauce / The Big Rotten Apple The better part of this film takes place in Queens Village, New York, said to be the poorest neighborhood in Queens, at a time when nobody made a fuss over the New York City subway cars being covered in graffiti. In addition, Akeem and Semmi work a minimum wage job and stay at a tenement in order to maintain their cover.
- Bland-Name Product:Cleo: Look... me and the McDonald's people got this little misunderstanding. See, they're McDonald's... I'm McDowell's. They got the Golden Arches, mine is the Golden Arcs. They got the Big Mac, I got the Big Mick. We both got two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles and onions, but their buns have sesame seeds. My buns have no seeds.
- Cleo is actually seen reading from a McDonald's operations manual.
- Bowdlerised: This film has been shown on TV on channels such as Comedy Central and ABC Family.
- Breaking the Fourth Wall:
- Briefly; after convincing his empty-headed bride to start barking like a dog and hop up and down like an imbecile, Akeem stares at the camera in exasperation.
- Semmi does this too, after hearing Akeem proclaim that a view from a run-down apartment in Queens is "Life. Real life! A thing we have been denied for far too long."
- And Darryl, when he realizes Lisa's sister is trying to have sex with him.
- And Dottie, the little dog at Cleo's home.
- Bride and Switch: When Akeem goes back home, it turns out Lisa came over to marry him.
- Bulungi: Zamunda.
- Burger Fool: Semmi and Akeem. (Akeem wanted to find a girl who would like him, not the Crown Prince)
- Celebrity Paradox: Saul, the old Jewish guy in the Barbershop, calls Akeem "Kunta Kinte". John Amos, who plays Cleo McDowell, played old Kunta Kinte in Roots. Furthermore, Madge Sinclair (Queen Aoleon) played Kunta's wife Bell Reynolds while James Earl Jones played their descendant Alex Haley in Roots: The Next Generations.
- Chalk Outline: "Damn shame what they did to that dog."
- Chekhov's Gun: Akeem flips a coin with his image on it in order to choose between traveling to New York or Los Angeles to find his bride. Later, Cleo shows Lisa some more money with Akeem's image as proof of him being a prince. "When I say the boy has his own money, I mean he has his own money!"
- Chekhov's Skill: At the beginning, Semmi and Akeem spar with staffs, with Semmi taunting Akeem throughout. These become important in thwarting the hold-up at the McDowell's restaurant.
- City Mouse: Semmi.
- Cluster F-Bomb: "Fuck you, fuck you, and fuck you! Who's next?
- Comically Missing the Point:
King Jaffe: I know you have been inconvenienced, and I am prepared to compensate you. Shall we say one million American dollars?Cleo: (furiously) No way!King Jaffe: Very well then, two million.
- When Akeem discusses his reservations about getting married (pointing out that he's never even been outside the kingdom), his father assumes Akeem wants to bed as many women as possible before getting married.
- When Akeem happily shouts "Good morning, my neighbors!" on his first morning in Queens, someone across the streets shouts "Hey, fuck you!". Akeem mistakes it for a greeting, and shouts "Yes! Fuck you, too!".
- King Jaffe Joffer does this throughout the movie. For instance, after angering Lisa and Cleo McDowell:
- Continuity Cameo: The Duke brothers from Trading Places. They're homeless and broke now until Akeem gives them a huge wad of cash. Curiously, neither seems to notice that Akeem looks just like Billy Ray Valentine.
- "Mortimer, We're Back."
- Contrasting Sequel Main Character: Akeem is this to both protagonists of Trading Places:
- Eddie Murphy's other character, Billy Ray Valentine, was a poor man who's suddenly thrown into the world of the wealthy. Akeem is a wealthy prince who throws himself into the world of the working poor.
- Louis Winthorpe is a snobby wealthy man with prejudiced attitudes towards the poor and becomes miserable without his wealth. Akeem is kindhearted and has grown weary of being pampered in wealth and welcomes a break from it.
- Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass:
- Deadpan Snarker: Semmi, and for the most part he doesn't even have to say anything... it's just his expressions.
- Defector from Decadence: Prince Akeem.
- Derailing Love Interests: Handled realistically with Darryl. He's always nice to Lisa and her family and doesn't cheat on her. That never changes, but the dismissive and rude way he treats everyone else he deems beneath him says much more about his true character. During the dinner party scene, Darryl makes it clear that while he does love Lisa, he is also a sexist who believes that women want to be told what to do. His lie to her father about her accepting his proposal probably didn't help either (he hadn't even actually proposed yet).
- Description Cut: After foiling the robbery, Cleo tells Akeem and Semmi this:Cleo: Say, leave Sunday night open. I'm having a little get-together at my house.Akeem: (to Semmi) You see? It is working! He has accepted us as equals!(cut to Akeem and Semmi standing outside in the cold as valets)
- Earn Your Happy Ending: Akeem wants a woman who'll love him for who he is, rather than settling for somebody that never doubts him.
- Establishing Character Moment: At the Black Awareness rally, when Lisa asks the audience to donate, Darryl, Lisa's boyfriend immediately passes the donation bin without donating, whereas Akeem immediately donates (albeit a much larger sum than he intended, since he's so intrigued by her).
- Exact Words:Cleo: He got his own money and, baby, when I tell you he's got his own money, I mean the boy has gotten his own money!(He hands Lisa a Zamunda banknote with Akeem's picture on it.)
- When Akeem tries to make his arranged bride more independent by ordering her to not do everything he says, she refuses. Doing exactly what he told her to do by refusing to not do whatever he told her to do.
- Extreme Doormat: Akeem's arranged bride, who hops on one foot and barks like a dog when he tells her to. Akeem is deeply unimpressed and decides to seek out a wife with an actual brain instead.
- Fairytale Wedding Dress: Lisa's dress has a crinoline around six feet wide and a train at least fifty feet long.
- Feet-First Introduction: During King Jaffe's grand entrance with his motorcade in Queens, he's shown feet first stepping on the rose petals his servant girls throw down wherever he goes.
- Fish out of Water: Akeem and Semmi are completely unaware of how America works.
- Flyover Country: Lampshaded.Semmi: [looking at America on a globe] The land is so big. The choices so infinite. Where shall we go: L.A. or New York?
- Foreshadowing: During the wedding, while Akeem is understandably upset, Semmi can barely restrain a happy smile. He obviously knows that's Lisa under the veil.
- Forgot I Could Change the Rules: At the end, King Jaffe and Queen Aeoleon are arguing about what to do concerning their son. Jaffe insists that while he hardly wants to see his son unhappy, tradition insists that he would not be able to marry Lisa anyway, and he can hardly go against tradition. Aeoleon snidely retorts "I thought you were the King."
- Fridge Horror: Imani - Akeem's original bride-to-be - has literally been raised to have no personality, no mind, and no will of her own beyond "do whatever pleases Akeem". Now that Akeem has Lisa, Imani has no purpose, and no ability to lead a normal life. It also says something about King Jaffe and Zamunda in general that they'd subject a person (presumably just a child when they started) to this kind of indoctrination just to produce the perfect bride. (Note that Aeoleon is a considerably more independent woman who can argue with her husband. This is not a long-standing tradition that existed before Jaffe.)
- Funny Foreigner: Akeem initially comes off as this to Lisa and her family.
- Giftedly Bad: Randy Watson and Sexual Chocolate.Sweets: That's boy's good!Clarence: Mmm, good and terrible.
- Gold Digger: Lisa's sister Patrice when she thinks Semmi is a prince. She later latches onto Darryl.
- Guttural Growler: Reverend Brown has a very coarse voice.
- Hollywood Tone-Deaf:
- Randy Watson.
- Akeem when he sings "To Be Loved" loudly and off-key after his first date with Lisa.
- Idiot Ball: Did Darryl seriously not consider that setting up his "engagement" to Lisa behind her back might irk her just a tiny bit?
Akeem: Where I'm from, we have to be very aggressive.Darryl: I'm all for that. Especially with women. You know, they may not admit it, but they want a man to take charge. Tell them what to do. (Cue the "engagement" scene)
- Apparently not; his beliefs about women are exposed before said "engagement" in a conversation with Akeem:
- On this evidence, Imani - a bride who says yes to all kinds of orders - would probably be a better match for Darryl.
- Important Haircut: Parodied when Akeem asks for an "American haircut". It takes less than a second."That'll be $8!"
- Innocent Swearing:
- "What does "dumbfuck" mean?"
- "Yes! Yes! Fuck you, too!!!"
- Jerkass: Darryl Jenks - a snobbish, self-absorbed, if not slightly misogynistic Spoiled Brat who thinks money can buy anything.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold:
- Semmi. Even though he acts like a selfish jerk and a hindrance to Akeem throughout most of his courtship with Lisa, his heart is in the right place; while he clearly doesn't want Akeem to be unhappy, he is simultaneously aware King Jaffe would not immediately approve of Lisa as the Royal Bride. Thank heavens all ends well then.
- Cleo McDowell. He can be a bit jerk-ish to Akeem and Semmi at times, and tried to force his daughter to marry Darryl, but it was only because he doesn't want her to struggle financially like he did. Not to mention he goes into Papa Wolf territory when King Jaffe insults him and his family, and gets even more pissed when Jaffe tries to pay him off.
- King Jaffe. He genuinely cares for Akeem and wants what is best for his son, but is almost completely unaware of how dismissive and arrogant he can be in his royal duties.
- King Incognito: It's the premise of the movie. Akeem's cover is nearly blown at a basketball game, where a Zamundan immigrant recognizes him and bows down to him.
- Kiss of Distraction: During Akeem's second date with Lisa, they go to a museum where they see an exhibit about Zamunda, Akeem's home country. But when he sees a photograph of himself as the Prince with his King and Queen parents, he immediately kisses her to keep her from seeing it.
- Logo Joke: After the Paramount logo assembles, the camera zooms in, flies over the logo, and spends the opening credits flying over the landscape of Zamunda.
- Marriage Before Romance: King Jaffe and Queen Aoleon. Despite arguing over what's best for Prince Akeem, they both assure him when it's time for his own Arranged Marriage that it is possible that he'll grow to love her like they grew to love each other. Though Akeem would rather marry a woman he actually loves, hence his trip to America.
- Marry for Love: One of the Prince's main motivations for coming to America.
- Metaphorgotten: King Jaffe Joffer's lecture about how arranged marriages aren't so bad.King Jaffe: So you see, my son, there is a very fine line between love and nausea!
- Misplaced Wildlife: A downplayed example is shown when Akeem seems to be wearing the hide of an ocelot - ocelots are native to South America. Granted, they could have purchased the hide of an ocelot anyway.
- Nice Guy:
- Akeem is polite, humble and respectful to those serve him, his co-workers at McDowell's and the woman he has feelings for.
- Akeem's mother Aoleon is a Nice Girl: very kind and considerate to everyone, especially those who Jaffe believes are beneath them.
- So is the polite, friendly and sincere Lisa that Akeem falls for.
- No Challenge Equals No Satisfaction: This is why Akeem turns down both living in privilege in America and his arranged wife.Akeem:I understand, but when I marry, I want the woman to love me for who I am, not because of what I am.King Jaffe Joffer: And who are you?Akeem: I am a man who has never tied his own shoes.
- Oh, Crap!:
Patrice: Why are you hugging [Akeem]? He's just the servant. (points) [Semmi]'s the prince!
- Akeem, when he brings Lisa to his apartment for the first time, and finds that Semmi has "fixed it up"... very nearly blowing their cover in the process.
- Semmi, when he returns to find Lisa's sister Patrice in the revamped apartment; she's come to see Akeem, and is demanding an explanation for how Akeem and Semmi are living so well on a minimum wage. Luckily, Semmi convincingly lies his way out of the situation, which buys him and Akeem time until...
- Akeem sees flower petals, alerting him that his father is in America looking for him.
King Jaffe: Who told you that?!
(Everyone looks at Semmi, who is morbidly frightened)
- Only One Finds It Fun: During the truly cringe-worthy performance by Randy Watson and Sexual Chocolate, the only one who is amused is Sweets the barber, much to the chagrin of his colleagues.
- Papa Wolf: Cleo McDowell surprisingly enough. He may want his girls to marry rich guys but insult her and offer to give him money for troubling you and he'll "break a foot off in your royal ass." Plus the fact that he's not a gold digger and genuinely just wants his girls to not have to struggle financially.
- Pimped-Out Dress:
- The wedding dress at the end, a pink one.
- The 'Queen to Be's' glittering golden gown with the enormously long train qualifies as well.
- Politically Incorrect Villain: Downplayed, Darryl isn't really a villain as a big Jerkass but he looks down on women and people from Africa.
- Precision F-Strike:Akeem: GOOD MORNING, MY NEIGHBORS!
Random person: Hey, fuck you!
Akeem: YES! YES! FUCK YOU, TOO!
- Pretty in Mink: Queen Aoleon wears a few furs when she is in New York, and the King has his lion skin.
- Rich in Dollars, Poor in Sense: Averted and played straight; although definitely naive, the wealthy Prince Akeem has a good head on his shoulders and adjusts quite well to the life of an American on minimum-wage. However, his lower class servant Semmi, accustomed to the luxuries of the Royal Palace and the privileges of being personal assistant to the prince, spends the movie whining like a Spoiled Brat about everything. It helps that at the beginning of the movie Akeem has dreamed of a life of doing things himself after being pampered his entire life (the guy has never even wiped his own ass!) and thus a life of manual labor is a dream come true for him. This is lampshaded by Lisa who comments that she's never seen someone take so much pride in cleaning a floor as Akeem does. Akeem and Semmi's attitudes are contrasted nicely in an exchange between the two while they are working at McDowell's:Semmi: What's not fair is me doing manual labour. (He looks worryingly at his nails) I am badly in need of a manicure.
Akeem: Oh. Listen to you. "I am badly in need of a manicure". (Semmi motions as if he is about to snap) Were you going to say something? (Semmi, realising he has no other choice, gets back to work)
- Rich Suitor, Poor Suitor: Subverted, it's Rich Suitor vs. Secretly Richer Suitor Disguised As Poor Suitor.
- Running Gag: Throughout the movie, references to the ersatz-Jheri-Curl, Soul-Glo, are shown.
- The Scream: When Semmi opens the door to apartment 1A, revealing the King and entourage.
- Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: King Jaffe tries to pay off Mr. McDowell for being "inconvenienced." Which only serves to piss him off. (Fortunately, King Jaffe is understanding, and Queen Aoleon is more than willing to tell her husband to put a sock in it by this point.)
- Seinfeldian Conversation: The old men in the barber shop talk about boxers.
- Self-Made Man: Cleo McDowell grew up in a slum, and was able to start a successful (if obviously plagiarized) restaurant. His attempt to marry Lisa off to a rich boy is so she doesn't have it as hard as he had it.
- Shout-Out: Akeem says hello to an elephant calf named Babar.
- Sliding Scale of Shiny Versus Gritty: A major theme of the movie, for both the plot and the comedy.
- Spit Take: Semmi does one after being hit on in a bar by a Creepy Crossdresser... that wasn't supposed to be a crossdresser. "She" was played by Arsenio Hall, hitting on himself.
- The Stinger: During the credits, there's a scene where the Alter Kocker tells a joke about a man trying to get a waiter to taste his soup."Ahhh, vadda ya know from funny, ya bastard?"
- Table Space: Jaffe and his wife sit at one end of a long table, while Akeem sits at the other end. They communicate through an intercom. Akeem getting up to walk to the opposite end to talk to his parents face-to-face is a massive ordeal. This is apparently symptomatic of Akeem's entire relationship with his parents. When he does sit with them, his father remarks in surprise that he's grown a mustache.
- Terrible Interviewees Montage: Akeem and Semmi's attempt to find his queen at a bar:Woman 1: I have a secret... [Prince Akeem and Semmi lean forward to listen closely] I worship the Devil!Woman 2: [takes two shots in a row] See, that's the problem. I can't find a man that can satisfy me. Now some guys go an hour, hour in a half, that's it. A man's gotta put in overtime for me to get off [takes another shot].Woman 3: I'm not interested in a man unless he drives a BMW.Woman 4: Hey, baby, I'm almost single. My husband's on death row.Woman 5: (Holding one hand right over a lit lighter flame as she speaks) I was Joan of Arc in my former life.
- Throw the Dog a Bone: Akeem hands a large bundle of cash to a pair of homeless men sleeping outside... who turn out to be Randolph and Mortimer Duke from Trading Places.
- Twin Threesome Fantasy: Akeem and Semmi meet two sets of twins in their Terrible Interviewees Montage, one of whom speaks in unison (and were formerly conjoined), the other of whom beatboxes.
- Unishment: King Jaffe Joffer is outraged with how Akeem and his servant Semmi have been living in a squalid New York City apartment, and working for a local fast food restaurant. Semmi's "punishment"?King Jaffe: You will confine yourself to our royal suite at the Waldorf-Astoria. [to Oha] And see that he puts on some decent attire. [To the female servants] And I want you to bathe him thoroughly.Semmi: [happily] Oh, thank you, your majesty! [He then shamefully lowers his head again]
- Unusual Euphemism: Still can be offensive, but references to native African fauna is a bit jarring.
- Waiting for a Break:Monique Mannen: "I want to work in videos, but I want to be my own star in the video, because I want to be a pop singer, a rock singer, and write my own songs. And then I'm going to try an actress, 'cause people tell me I'm a natural. Then I'm going to write and direct my own stories, produce the movies..."
- What Happened to the Mouse?: What did King Jaffe do about the chosen bride who has just spent her entire life preparing to be a princess? For all we know, she could still be hopping on one foot while barking. Or, hopefully, just went back home - and maybe grew a personality.