Director Craig Brewer says the South African actress brings “this energy of love” to the film, premiering on Amazon on March 5.
While there is no African country of Zamunda, from which Coming to America‘s Prince Akeem hails, the movie had an impact on the continent when it was released in 1988 — particularly in South Africa, home to Nomzamo Mbatha, who makes her big studio debut in the sequel, premiering on Amazon on March 5.
“So many people back home say Coming to America was the first time they’d been to a cinema,” says Mbatha, 30, whose credits include the homegrown hit Tell Me Sweet Something, which earned her an Africa Movie Academy Award nom, and the telenovela iSibaya. “I remember going to get my work visa stamped into my passport. I went to the U.S. embassy in South Africa, and the lady at the counter is like, ‘OK, Paramount. Which movie is it?’ I said, ‘Coming 2 America,’ and she stopped, looked at me and said, ‘Don’t mess it up.’ ”
Given her trajectory, that would have been unlikely. For the past few years, the actress’ profile has been steadily rising, with roles as a U.N. Goodwill Ambassador and a brand ambassador — her new Puma collection, named Shandu (a tribute to her grandmother’s clan) drops this month — while acting in movies and television on her home continent.
In the new film, Paramount’s big, splashy sequel to the comedy classic, it’s 30 years later, and King Akeem (Eddie Murphy) is shocked to learn that he has a son, Lavelle (Jermaine Fowler), back in Queens, whose help is needed to stabilize Zamunda. Playing a royal groomer, Mbatha gets Lavelle to listen to his inner vibrations to find his path to princehood and injects the story with a sense of wonder and magic.
Mbatha projected a similar aura among the cast and crew.
“She was this symphony when she walked onto set,” says Coming 2 America director Craig Brewer. “She brought this energy of love, and, being one of the few people in the movie who lives in Africa, she provided this authenticity.”
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