It's only been in theaters since mid-February, but already, Black Panther has made $1 billion worldwide at the box office. The superhero movie has caused many people in the Black community to embrace Africanism and Afro-futurism, although it's not the first film of its kind to do so. In a happy coincidence, the Marvel movie was released just a few months shy of the 30th anniversary of Coming to America, the iconic romantic comedy that also depicted the wealth and prosperity of a fictional African nation — this time called Zamunda. That film, released in 1988, tapped directly into the Black community's fascination with seeing themselves depicted as royalty in pop culture. And so in the wake of Black Panther's success, do yourself a favor and stream Coming to America, which majorly paved the way for the Ryan Coogler-directed movie.
Coming to America, directed by John Landis and starring Eddie Murphy, Arsenio Hall, James Earl Jones and Shari Headley, is considered a Black comedy classic by millions of people. It's also a blockbuster; it brought in $128 million after its '88 release, according to Box Office Mojo. And its success was well-deserved. The movie, about a wealthy African prince who comes to Queens, New York made countless viewers see Africa as more than the impoverished, famine-filled continent it was so often portrayed as in commercials and other pop culture. In many ways, the movie was revolutionary.
In showing a different, more prosperous side of Africa that typically seen on-screen, Coming to America hit a note with audiences in 1988 and still resonates with many people today. Just look at the Coming to America-themed party hosted by Lupita Nyong'o, or the Zamundan Halloween costumes Beyonce and Jay Z wore in 2015. And for viewers like myself, the movie has had a massive legacy. Coming to America was the first movie I saw as a child that featured jewelry and clothing patterns resembling the ones I saw in my world as a first generation Nigerian immigrant. For the first time, I — and so many others in the Black community— saw "going back to Africa" as a good thing.
Although the movie and its country were, of course, fictional, it still caused many of us to feel immense pride in our Blackness and African heritage. And the movie's impact is still seen today, in ways far bigger than just celebrities' themed parties. During the opening weeks of Black Panther, for instance, some people showed up to theaters in costumes that paid tribute to Zamunda. The connection between the two movies was clearly felt by many; both films show an Africa in which royalty and prosperity are alive and well and in which Black communities are valued for their strength and knowledge.
Coming to America created a dialogue about African culture and Black Americans trying to learn more about their ancestral roots that had never been discussed on-screen before. The movie opened many people's eyes to the fact that Africa is a complex continent filled with so many different cultures, and in doing so, it laid a necessary foundation for a film like Black Panther to both be released and be a success. Without the 1988 film leading the way, we might not have had the beloved Marvel movie which delved even deeper into the progressiveness of African people.
Black Panther is, of course, a more than worthy movie on its own and should be honored as such. But it's important to give credit where it's due, and Coming to America was the first influential film to celebrate Afro-futurism on-screen in such a joyous, world-changing way.