Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Marxism in Coming to America By Sachin Bhachu

Coming to America is an American love comedy directed by John Landis, it was released into cinemas across the United States in 1988. The story line was created by Eddie Murphy, in which he also starred in the lead role. The film is about a Prince who turns 21 and as part of tradition in his country; he is set up to get married to a woman he does not know. The Prince, who objects to this, insists he is allowed to find his own bride, one who will love him for who he is, not one who will obey his every command because of his royal status. Marxist views can have affect on lifestyle, with It’s purpose being to fight for the freedom of the working class, also known as the proletariat, who are seen to be under domination by the upper class, the Bourgeoisie. The Marxist class system theory has a big part in this film, as there is a lot of discrimination based on social status.

Eddie Murphy plays the role of Akeem Joffer, an African Prince, Son of King Jaffe Joffer, ruler of Zamunda. As the prince has turned 21, it is time for him to marry his princess. His father King Jaffe Joffer, takes it upon himself to find a suitable wife for his son the Prince. He finds a woman, one who has been brought up to marry a prince. “Since the day she was born she was taught to walk and speak and think as a Queen” (Coming to America, 1988) . However Prince Akeem has his own plans, to find someone who loves him for who he is, not his riches. “But when I marry, I want the woman to love me for who I am, not because of what I am” (Coming to America, 1988). From a Marxist perspective, you can see how the class system comes into place here. Prince Akeem is of higher class, royalty, however he does not want to marry somebody who wants him for his wealth and royal status, or somebody that his father has found for him who will also be of upper class. Prince Akeem widens his searches for a bride by going to America, and posing as a proletarian. They choose to go to Queens in New York, a part of New York that is full of working class citizens. Akeem and his friend also servant, Semmi; attempt to blend in with the American culture, so they ditch their suits and fur overcoats and replace them with caps and American baseball jackets. The Prince wastes no time in searching for his perfect bride, so him and Semmi hit the bars around Queens, however they are unsuccessful. Their luck does change soon after; at “Black Awareness Week” he sets his eyes upon a girl called Lisa McDowell. Akeem and Semmi take jobs at McDowell’s fast food restaurant, as Lisa’s father Cleo McDowell owns it, this is the perfect way for Akeem to get acquainted with Lisa. It will also help them to blend in more with the working class. Spending most days working with Lisa, this was the perfect way for him to make Lisa fall in love with Akeem, and not the Prince.

Cleo McDowell, Lisa’s father, is an arrogant bourgeoisie. Owner of McDowell’s fast food restaurant, and owner of a large home, he thinks he is superior to anyone who is not as wealthy as him. This affects the way he treats people, for example the way he treats Lisa’s two love interests throughout the film. Darryl and Akeem, Cleo knows that Darryl is very wealthy so he treats him with the utmost respect, he is desperate for Lisa to marry Darryl because he is also a bourgeoisie. Eventually Cleo even agrees for Darryl and his daughter Lisa to get married, without consulting Lisa.

Lisa’s boyfriend, Darryl Jenks, thinks he is gods gift to women. As well as being filthy rich, he is a model and heir to his fathers business ‘Soul Glo’. This makes him feel as if he is above every working class person, including Akeem and Semmi. He treats them with no respect and insults Akeem on many occasions. This is an example of how social status can have such an affect on people’s ego, and how power and capital make the bourgeoisie believe they are in control of society.

Lisa McDowell is one who does not care about how rich somebody is or what they possess. After getting to know Akeem better she begins to realise how down to earth he is, compared to her self obsessed boyfriend Darryl. After spending some time with Akeem, she breaks up with Darryl and starts to date Akeem. The incognito Prince realizes he has found everything he has been looking for in a woman, he has found the woman he wants to make his Princess. Lisa likes Akeem even though she thinks he is extremely poor, unaware that he is actually heir to the throne of Zamunda.

Semmi is struggling to adapt to such a low lifestyle, he feels alienated in such a different environment than what he Is used to; even though he is Akeem’s servant, he is used to a life of luxuries. He sends a telegram requesting further funds from the King, this alarms him and forces him to fly to America to take his son back home. King Jaffe Joffer is angered to find out his son has been working. “MY SON WORKS?” (Coming to America, 1988) As he believes a Prince should not have to lift a finger. It is when he pays a visit to McDowells, he meets Cleo McDowell, and explains to him that Akeem is a Prince, and heir to the throne of Zamunda. Before this point Cleo had treated Akeem like a peasant, and did not agree with him seeing his daughter Lisa. However after finding out he is not a poor working class man, but a Prince with wealth and power, Mr McDowell’s feelings towards Akeem drastically change. A clear example of how title and capital can change an arrogant bourgeoisie on a person, Mr McDowell’s money-orientated way of thinking judges a person straight away off their social status rather than who the person is deep down. King Jaffe Joffer and Cleo McDowell are very similar in how they judge people using Marx’s class theory. If they believe somebody is beneath them, they are quick to let them know who is on top. When the King and Mr McDowell have a slight argument about Lisa and Akeem in Mr McDowell’s house, the King explains why Akeem cannot marry her “Oh come now, our son cannot consort with such a girl” (Coming to America, 1988) this upsets Mr McDowell as it makes him feel as if he is being undermined by the King. A battle of the higher class, as they both try to retain their dignity, King Jaffe Joffer tries to pay off Mr McDowell for his inconvenience “Shall we say one million American dollars?” (Coming to America, 1988) as it is nothing to him. After Cleo McDowell rejects, the king offers two million dollars; Cleo again refrains from being demoralized, “You haven’t got enough money to buy my daughter off” (Coming to America, 1988). Here you can see how the bourgeoisie's believe capital brings them power, and how they can dominate the proletariat's.

Further on into the film comes a significant moment, Prince Akeem chases after Lisa as she storms out of her home in anger of being lied to. Akeem catches her on the subway and explains to her why he did not tell her he was a Prince, “I wanted you to love me for who I am” (Coming to America, 1988). She questions who he really is, he explains nothing is different; “Should it matter that I am a prince” (Coming to America, 1988). Lisa understands, as she is not someone to judge by social status or capital. King Jaffe Joffer finds it difficult to accept his son falling in love with a proletarian, but allows a break in tradition to make his son happy, he arranges for Lisa and Akeem to marry in Zamunda as a surprise, as Akeem thought he had lost her.

This film is a great example of how capital, social status or title can have an affect on how people can be treated differently. Upper class people, who believe to be in control of the working class, can interfere with everyday life. Such as Akeem and Lisa being together, if you eliminate social status, there would be no problems. Marxist theories suggest that the proletariat are slaves of labour for the bourgeoisie. They come to think they are a service to them, in exchange for wage, so they can attain the things they are lead to believe they desire. However the proletariat are brainwashed into forgetting the power they obtain, the bourgeoisie are the minority and they can be overruled by the proletariat's to make the world a fairer place.


Coming to America (1988) Directed by John Landis [Film] Paramount Pictures

‘Karl Marx Theory of Ideas’ (1955) Cambridge University Press, John Torrance -
Andy Blunden (Accessed – 28th April 2014) (Accessed – 4th May 2014)

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