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I was born in Nigeria to a Nigerian mother and a Cameroonian father, although I’m now a citizen of the United States. Coincidentally, I came to the U.S. the same year that “Coming to America” was released in theaters, although my experience was nothing like Prince Akeem’s, and the movie created a number of headaches for me: Schoolmates would call me Akeem and ask stupid questions like if I played with wild animals in my backyard.
The film was released at a time when American audiences had very little exposure to the varied realities of life across the African continent. The dangerously incomplete story of “Africa” that permeated the West (and quite frankly still does to some degree) was that of a helpless, homogenous mass of people — instead of an entire continent of 54 individual nations — ravaged by famine, poverty, disease, and war.
America - Disconnect - Comedy - Audiences - Africans
“Coming to America” further reflected that disconnect, and its comedy exploited audiences who didn’t know any better. Even Africans were entertained and humored by it — although, for them, the amusement was rooted in how ridiculous the premise and depictions of Africans were, and the stereotypes that the film played upon, compared to their own experiences as Africans in African countries, or in America.
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Thirty years later, American audiences generally have been exposed to more complete and authentic accounts of African life, in part thanks to the global impact of the internet. And the increase in interest in African stories across television and film has also been of influence in increasing familiarity, especially as Africans themselves become even...
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