By Brooke Marine
Eddie Murphy’s 1988 film Coming to America is much more than just a cult classic — and while it is definitely a very American take on the African Diaspora, its impact has been felt around the globe.
In the 1988 film, Murphy plays Akeem, the prince of a fictional wealthy African nation called Zamunda, who travels to New York to find a bride.
A sequel, Coming 2 America, was released on Amazon Prime in early March.
Murphy returns as Prince Akeem, but there’s a twist: his long-lost son Lavelle has been living in Queens with no knowledge of his royal ancestry, so Akeem travels to Queens to bring him back to the African continent and prepare him for princehood. He arrives and Akeem presents a wife (Teyana Taylor) for his son, but it’s the royal barber, played by South African actress Nomzamo Mbatha, who catches Lavelle’s eye.
With over three million followers on Instagram, Mbatha is already a global sensation.
Known for her roles in South African films and television shows, Coming 2 America will likely be her introduction to American audiences.
Mbatha’s work also exists outside the realm of entertainment — she was also the first South African to represent Neutrogena, serves as a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations, and will release a collection with Puma South Africa this year.
Calling in from Los Angeles, where she’s lived for the past two years, Mbatha tells her own “coming to America” story.
Q: Did you move to Los Angeles to film Coming 2 America?
No. I felt like I had done a lot of stuff in South Africa and the plan has always been to make the move to this side of the world. It was crazy because I was doing so well there, and I was at the peak of my career. People wondered, why would you want to move and start over just to be nobody?
But I came to LA. I had an apartment set up and was doing auditions. That was a huge adjustment because back home I’m used to being called in, like, ‘Hey, this is your job. Are you available?’ Coming into Hollywood, it’s a different ball game altogether. You’re starting from scratch. But I’ve always been a little nomad.
Q: The Coming to America franchise is a big deal for black people in both the African and North American continents. You’re well known in South Africa and other parts of the globe, but how do you feel about this film being your introduction to a lot of Americans?
A: I’m so nervous, but I’m so excited. This film is a cross-pollination and it’s timely. It’s what we need as the Diaspora, and to be at the centre of it has a lot of gravitas. Heavy is the head, right? We’ve seen so many projects that bring us together as a community, and so many movements.
Look at the Black Lives Matter movement. That movement said, no man is an island, no Black person is an island. Paris stood up, London stood up, South Africa stood up—because we come together as a global community.
Q: Who is your beauty icon?
Winnie Mandela. Her beauty was so risk-taking to me, and she aged so gracefully. When I talk about iconic beauties, she was it for me. I remember meeting her for the first time and it jolted me out of my skin.
Also, there’s, Garcelle Beauvais who I’ve just recently met on the set of Coming 2 America. She walked into the trailer while I was getting my hair done. I was like, “What the f**k? Oh my god! You’re so beautiful.” She was so graceful about it too. Out of the younger stars, I’d say Yara Shahidi. There’s something very authentically beautiful about her. And those cheekbones! Gorgeous.
Q: How did you come up with the name for your Puma collection?
There are so many different cultures within South Africa. I’m from the Zulu culture, where your surname has a lineage of clan names that follow it; you’re able to trace back to your original origins.
I always tell this story because I understand why a film like Black Panther made so much sense for the Black American experience. You get to have an imagination of a place, a connection, like an umbilical cord. For us, we have the name lineage. Mbatha is from the Shandu tribe, which is what I named my collection. It’s an homage to my maternal grandmother, who I believe is my guardian angel. She’s the light at my feet and continues to guide me in my career and life. She passed away when my mother was 13 years old, and I feel like there’s a connection somehow between me and her.
Her name will echo through this huge opportunity, which has happened for the first time in Africa. Puma said okay, we’ll put your name on clothing and it’s a global collection. I feel really blessed to be able to be a visual and tangible representation of a dream realized. I think what that could do for every Black girl on the continent is really special. – W Magazine
This article has been abridged from W Magazine. The full article can be accessed at https://www.wmagazine.com/beauty/coming-2-america-nomzamo-mbatha-beauty-notes