Coming to America is usually found on lists featuring great comedy movies or Eddie Murphy’s best roles, but it is rarely praised for being a romantic comedy. Sure, watching Murphy and Arsenio Hall play a wide-range of ridiculous characters is entertaining, but the heart of the film is the love story between Akeem (Murphy) and Lisa (Shari Headley). Akeem defies his father and Zamunda’s laws to fly to America where he falls in love with Lisa. So, while some fans have been anxiously anticipating the Coming 2 America sequel for over 30 years to see what Akeem and Hall have been up to, I was excited to get an update on Akeem and Lisa’s relationship. And while the reviews for Coming 2 America aren't the most flattering, at least one piece of the sequel is on point: Lisa is absolutely thriving as Zamunda royalty.
When Akeem meets Lisa in the 1988 film, she is working with her father Cleo (John Amos) at his restaurant chain McDowell’s and she is in an unhappy relationship with her boyfriend Darryl Jenks (Eriq La Salle). In the sequel, thankfully, Lisa’s storyline is not centred around a bleak life and overbearing men. Now, she runs Zamunda and the palace alongside Akeem as the two raise their three daughters. She is easily the most evolved character from to the original film — Coming 2 America gives Lisa a much needed update.
Rom-coms are idealised because it is hard to resist a great love story. However, most of them involve one half of the couple leaving the other clueless for a majority of the movie's run time. You won’t find that trope in this sequel. Lisa references Akeem keeping her in the dark in the previous film to demand that he tell her about his extended family in Queens, New York, including his son (Jermaine Fowler). Coming 2 America allows Lisa to be included in the hilarious interactions and schemes between Murphy and Hall. It’s a small, but welcome adjustment: she's no longer an uninformed side character.
And while the jokes are fun, the best parts about Coming 2 America are the Zamunda celebrations and accompanying outfits. The sequel spends most of the time in Zamunda, highlighting the royal palace and the Joffers’ extravagant lifestyle. The Lisa we met in the original movie definitely wouldn’t have fit in here with her casual McDowell’s working clothes, her big grey puffer vest, or her '80s hair.
Unlike the first film (which featured that show-stopping pink wedding dress), we don’t have to wait until the final moments to see Lisa in wardrobe worthy of a queen. In Coming 2 America, Lisa wears lavish, beaded dresses and colourful headpieces with African influences in every scene. Oscar-winning costume designer Ruth E. Carter, who also worked on Black Panther, designed the costumes for Coming 2 America, so it’s no surprise they pop on screen. Lisa has fully left behind her Queens look to shine as a member of the Zamunda royal family.
Amid all the visual fanfare, the main storyline in Coming 2 America focuses on Akeem preparing his newly found son Lavelle (Jermaine Fowler) to take the throne. Although Akeem and Lisa’s eldest daughter Meeka (KiKi Layne) trained her entire life to inherit the crown from her father, she is forbidden because Zamunda law does not women to rule. Instead of protesting this outdated custom and supporting his daughter, Akeem simply shifts his focus to his newfound son. It's... not great.
But in her big moment in the sequel, Lisa challenges Akeem for treating his daughters and the women of Zamunda like second class citizens. Akeem basically tells Lisa to be quiet and complacent (again, not great!), but she refuses and banishes him from their room until he recognizes how he has disrespected their daughter. There are surprisingly few moments in the sequel when someone finally acknowledges how the women of Zamunda are basically paraded around strictly for marriage purposes. The movie desperately needed a character to speak up and address Zamunda’s sexism, so who better than Lisa?
And while we weren't expecting a grand revelation from this sequel, it does feel good to see a character who was once made out to be little more than a love interest find her voice — and a great wardrobe to match it.