Ruth E. Carter breaks down the vibrant costumes of Coming 2 America
The Oscar-winning costume designer redefined Zamundan style for the comedy sequel.
Not for the first time, Ruth E. Carter was tasked with inventing the style of a fictional country.
The Oscar-winning Black Panther costume designer reteamed with her Dolemite Is My Name director, Craig Brewer, and star Eddie Murphy to create the stunning costumes for Coming 2 America, the sequel to John Landis' beloved comedy (out Friday). While the 1988 classic takes place mostly in Queens, where Murphy's Prince Akeem of Zamunda has a fish-out-of-water adventure-turned-love story, Brewer's decades-later follow-up reverses course as Akeem's American son, Lavelle (Jermaine Fowler), becomes acquainted with the kingdom he stands to inherit.
"We were going to be in Zamunda for more than the first [film] was," Carter tells EW of the sequel. Diving into the project, she asked herself: "If you were to go there today, what would you see? What would be the national form of dress? What would be the everyday?"
Though she had also designed the national dress for a fictional country when she outfitted Black Panther's Wakandan royalty, "they weren't the same at all. I had to make sure I had a different philosophy for them that would separate them," Carter says firmly. "On Black Panther I was always saying to everyone, 'This is not Coming to America, people!' And then I got Coming 2 America, so I was like, 'Okay, this is not Black Panther!'"
At the same time, however, her experience on the superhero flick did somewhat inform her approach to designing Zamunda: "I realized people wanted to see a different Africa, maybe something that didn't feel so colonized," she says. "I really tried to make sure that I represented Africa as a modern place."
To bring 1988's Zamunda into the 21st century, "I wanted to sort of really root it in some real stuff," Carter says. "I used a lot of African designers [and] involved a lot of international feeling," including the use of some Indian textiles — which doubled as a callback to Queen Aoleon's wardrobe in the original film.
That wasn't the only reference Carter echoed from Coming to America; she names the use of ankara fabric throughout, which appeared extensively in the first movie, as an important element in the new one. She also wanted to bring back the original's formal palace wear, like the regal sashes, alongside her more casual vision for day-to-day Zamundan style.
"There are times when we're in the big ballrooms where we feel the expanse of Coming to America that we remember so well," Carter says. "And then going into the barbershop, we stayed very close to what it was originally… Sometimes, you know, you even have family members who are like, 'My uncle looks the same today as he did in 1990! He likes those pants and he ain't gonna change out of 'em!' That's kind of like what the barbershop was to me — they've figured it out for themselves, and that's what it is!"
The return to something so beloved is a meaningful piece of Coming 2 America's appeal, and Carter knew to draw on that when dressing the sequel. "People want to return to what they know," she says, "and so it was really important to make sure [we honored] that part of it."
The perfect combination of Coming 2 America's contemporary international influence with the majesty and familiarity of old Zamunda comes in the form of Fowler's Lavelle, who mixes New York street style with the dress of his family's country. "It's a mash-up," Carter explains. "That was the idea — that he could do his own thing." Just like his father before him.
Coming 2 America hits Amazon Prime Video on March 5.
(Video provided by Amazon)
Coming 2 America