by Olalekan Ojumu
Eddie Murphy’s Coming 2 America is a cultural marvel. Although the movie has received mixed reviews from mainstream media and the global audience, a constant conversation on the lips of people is the gorgeousness of the celebration of the black culture through the costumes worn by the actors in the movie.
Just like Black Panther, Coming 2 America reminds us of the journey of the black culture and provides a glimpse into the future of black dopeness.
For Craig Brewster who directed the movie, Coming 2 America was more than the assemblage of a diverse cast, it was an opportunity to showcase the beauty, boldness, and power of the African culture, hence the flamboyance with the costumes among other things.
In creating this magnificent cortege of African dresses, Ruth Carter, who helmed the costuming in Black Panther, was recruited. Fresh from the success of the first superhero film to receive a best picture nomination, she had to draw inspiration from recent African designs and was very particular about the authenticity of the costumes. To put the gaze on originality, she worked with various designers, developing new outfits that integrated African patterns and fabrics.
Ruth Carter drew inspiration from East and West African designs whilst also looking to South Africa to borrow ideas in the styling of General Izzi (Wesley Snipes) for the royal wedding. Although this array of styles is a reflection of the diversity in Zamunda, it cast a longer look into showcasing the various identities and cultures in the African continent.
Coming 2 America encourages young black people to embrace and celebrate the African culture, most especially embracing their natural hair and being unapologetic about it. It was also an opportunity to appreciate the Afro-punk movement. The movie cast from Lavell Johnson (Jermain Fowler), Bopoto (Teyana Taylor) to Meeka (Kiki Layne) were all defined by an array of hairstyles that celebrated the black culture. From wearing braids, locks, and cornrows that were adorned with all shades of colors to wearing large Afros and ponytails, the African hair culture was duly represented.
Another interesting homage paid to African fashion was the fancy haircuts of the guards which were styled in manners affiliated to Congolese culture and carved as hats. Carter, in an interview, called them hair hats. Her attention to small details made this movie not just a wonder to watch, but a theatre of scenes to swoon after. These hair hats are still worn by some tribes in the Congo.
It must be noted that the choice of King Akeem’s robe which was adorned with cowries was inspired by the magnificence of the Osun deity river goddess. Shells are commonly found around oceans and it is also commonly worn among the adherents of the goddess. For Ruth, the cowries symbolizes the goddess protection and affluence of Zamunda and signifies that Zamunda is a coastal African country. The overall colorful nature of the movie also borrowed heavily from a number of African cultures. For instance, the flag of Zamunda, which was worn by Princess Meeka, is a semblance of Africa’s Pan Africanist flag with its black and yellow hues.
Showcasing the remarkability of the African culture can be attributed to the array of creative and multi-talented fashion designers that were brought together to work in displaying the beauty, splendor, and opulence of the African culture. Coming 2 America was an opportunity to shine the spotlight on the diverse creative geniuses in the fashion industry who all came from different walks of life. These designers included Sewit Sium, Mizizi, Kadjoe Design House of Deola, which is based in Lagos Nigeria, Ikire Jones also from Nigeria, TruFaceByGrace, Khiry who makes jewels and Ghanian based jewelry company Aphia Sakyi and Mimi Plange. Claude Kameni, who was born in Cameroon and owns the fashion store Lavie by CK developed the stunning wedding gown worn by Nomzamo Nonzwakazi Mbatha, the barber turned wife of prince Lavelle.
The uniqueness of these designers was in the consistency in their costumes for the actors. These costumes were not only glamourous and majestic, but they helped in guiding the cinematic experiences of not just the actors but viewers as well. According to many of the casts, they enjoyed adorning their costumes so much they all wanted to ‘live’ in them.
As Ruth Carter was creating interesting characters through costumes, little did she know that she is revealing to the world the magnificence of black beauty and power.