How the Afropunk Movement Influenced the Hairstyles in Coming 2 America
And since I know many of you reading this don't want me to spoil it for you — I won't (and would never, come on). What I will say is that when you do watch the movie, you need to pay attention to the hair in every single scene, because it's just too good to gloss over.
Towering afros, cascading single braids, faux locs, and puffs, in all of their iterations, are on full display throughout the film. Carla Farmer — the film's hair department co-head, who's been a stylist on several major films and TV series including Brandy's Cinderella, Girlfriends, and Grey's Anatomy — tells me that with more scenes being set in Zamunda in comparison to the original flick, this was the time to show off the diversity of natural hair and protective styles to bridge the gap between the late '80s to now.
However, Farmer, along with fellow hair department co-head Stacey Morris — Murphy's go-to, who has worked on numerous iconic sets from the original House Party trilogy to The Nutty Professor and Martin — wanted there to be a connection to the looks hairstylist Robert L. Stevenson crafted for the original 1988 film.
"Robert's one of my mentors, and I called him ahead of time to let him know that I was doing the film," Farmer shares. "He was very excited and he said, 'I give you guys permission to take it as far as you can, and just make me proud.' So we were able to create and come up with some new looks for this second film."
One of the most notable progressive looks is seen on the beloved Lisa McDowell (played by Shari Headly). Known for her soft, brushed out curls in the original flick, this character took the textured look up a notch in the sequel, all while staying true to her signature styles.
But Farmer says she can't take full credit for McDowell's hair journey.
"This was the genius of Craig Brewer, our director. I had a whole different way I wanted to go with her, because she had been in Zamunda [for years]," she admits. "He was like, 'No, we need to see classic Lisa, and he was absolutely right."
So instead of using pin-straight hair for the character, Farmer opted for blown-out kinky pieces, using heat to add extra curls and texture.
"It looked like it was her old hair from the original," the stylist continues. "I wanted to show the difference between the different generations. So the second generation, the kids, they had a more Afrocentric influence."
The three princesses of Zamunda: Meeka (played by KiKi Layne), Tinashe (played by Akiley Love), and Omma (played by Bella Murphy) have their hair styled in a variety of ombre faux locs, puffs, braids, and bantu knots throughout the film, and are rarely (if ever) seen without gold embellishments adorning their exquisite coily hair.
Farmer shares that while it's nothing out of the ordinary for Black women to add metallic hair rings, cuffs, and beads to our protective styles these days, the thought here was to display the natural wealth of the continent of Africa (although Zamunda is a fictional place), as well as the royal family's access to it.
However, both Farmer and Morris wanted to pull inspiration from the natural hair movement happening in the United States as well.
"We both gathered a lot of research from the Afropunk movement, explains Farmer. "We identified with this and we thought it's nothing that is mainstream of yet. They also use a lot of jewelry in their hairstyling and they adorn themselves with a lot of jewelry on their face, their bodies, so I wanted to implement that in the hair."
But the jaw-dropping looks don't just stop at the main characters.
I promise you Bopoto Izzi's (played by Teyana Taylor) fluffy hair in her debut scene — which Taylor picked out herself — as well as an unexpected cameo by En Vogue in structural single braids will give you pause, despite the latter's look being a bit touch-and-go.
"That was a funny story," Farmer says of the R&B group's look for the film. "I don't want to say it, but [we used] some leftover pieces we had and we just created those looks [laughs]."
Farmer and Morris tapped some local Atlanta hairstylists to craft the braids, and trusted their creativity and vision to bring the standout looks to life. "It was nothing involved, it was literally the talent of the Atlanta hairstylists," Farmer adds.
The pair also leaned on the legendary Ruth Carter, lead costume designer on set who also recently just got a well-deserved star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, to design the regal crowns and head wraps for the characters.
Seeing as the majority of the scenes were filmed in Georgia's capital, it would be remiss of the hairstyling pair to not source a good portion of not only the hair, but also the accessories, from Atlanta — the mecca of Black haircare and styling in the U.S.
"The beauty supply in Atlanta is like the Costco of hair — it was nuts," Morris exclaims. "I never saw anything like it. Me and [Carla] were like kids in a candy store, we literally went crazy."
Women's hair aside, the male character's hair is just as captivating.
Prince Akeem's (played by Murphy) mini 'fro from the 1988 film is upgraded into a low cut with a crisp lineup for the sequel — although the retro style did make a comeback for one scene — while Semmi's (played by Arsenio Hall) flat top, on the other hand, kept the height. However, Morris modernized the look by rounding out the cut, texturizing the hair, and adding extra dimension.
"We did grow out Eddie's a little more than what he does on a day-to-day basis in his regular life, but I wanted it dark and defined," Morris says. "He's clean, he's clean cut, he just needed to look regal and royal. That comes across with him, without having to do something elaborate with his hair."
"As far as Arsenio," she continues, "I just brought him up to date. I wanted him to have hair like mature, grown-man style. And then we switched it up to give him just a bit of edge with the part."
Then there's Wesley Snipes' character, General Izzi, whose hair is inspired by the Amasunzu style historically worn by men and unmarried women in Rwanda — to which Morris put her own spin on.
It goes without saying that the Coming to America franchise has always been about celebrating Blackness. And despite the fact that the rest of Hollywood is only now getting hip to the innate beauty and versatility of natural hair — as well as understanding that stylists need to be trained on how to work with all textures — both Morris and Farmer have long been molding our coily strands into works of art for the big and small screens since the '90s.
That's why being able to lead the hair team on the set of the sequel of a truly classic movie felt like a full circle moment for the pair.
"This film was important for us," Morris says. "Literally, it's a celebration of us, it's a celebration of our culture. We did it for our culture. And it was fantasy, so we could make up things, we could pull stuff from different inspirations we got. We made sure that it was [current] and American and African — all of those pieces of the puzzle."
Furthermore, Morris is well aware of the influence on-screen depictions have when it comes to not only setting trends, but normalizing hair textures and styles. Thus, giving future Black hairstylists the freedom to express themselves authentically — and it's not a job she takes lightly.
"If you go back to the early '90s with House Party, who was doing that? I was doing that, and then it became a trend," she says of Kid 'n Play's signature high top fades, while also giving props to Grace Jones. "Once it's on screen and it becomes accepted, then it becomes a trend. So for us as trendsetters, I'm glad to see that other people will have the opportunity to express themselves in their art, and for it to be accepted."
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