OPINION: Rehashing Old Black Pop Culture Seems Like a Good Idea, But Only If You’re Careful

Written by Dustin J. Seibert

An unfortunate by-product of creeping toward middle age, as I am, is being forced to watch Hollywood remake, rejigger, sequel, and often f— up shows and movies from my formative years. More often than not, my visceral response is “Why?!? Leave it alone! It was just minding its business!” But I was pretty excited when I first heard the news of a proper sequel to the comedy classic Coming to America, and I don’t know many Negro souls who weren’t.

Query any Black person over the age of 35 about cinema, and the 1988 original will pop up in their top 10 – if not top 5 – favorite films (Black cards have been snatched over this topic for decades). The sequel, Coming 2 America (out March 5 on Amazon Prime), brings back most of the old players and adds several new, beloved Black actors and comedians. Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall, back in makeup playing a bunch of other characters? Check. They dug up Shari Headley (after that atrocious Belly sequel?) Check. James Earl Muthaf—in’ Jones is back as well?? Listen…what’s good on the watch party?

RELATED: Coming 2 America: 10 Characters We Can’t Wait to See Again

But when I learned that the sequel is PG-13, I cocked a curious eyebrow at the decision, considering the original is a relatively unchained R-rated film, complete with semi-nude scenes and some early-model Samuel L. Jackson F-bombs. And then the trailers dropped, and the excitement drained. I can’t decide if it looks like the film is trying too hard or not trying hard enough, but Coming 2 America feels more like Coming 2 These Paychecks. I realized there’s no earthly way anyone could recapture the magic of the original, but it would be a screaming shame if there is a considerable disparity between the two.

I’d think that Black folks have a more emotional, visceral relationship to television and cinema made for us than our white counterparts have with material designed for them. Sure, it’s all just entertainment, but some of these movies and programs not only broke ground in the portrayal of the Black American experience for mainstream audiences, but they are inextricably tied to the Black cultural experience. It matters more to us that creatives approach remakes and reboots while treating the originals with the reverence they deserve. In contrast, if some idiot decided to reboot Friends and screwed the pooch, white folks would move on with their day.

In 1992, it mattered to us to see Boomerang, a mainstream film with nothing but Black leads and actors, do well at the box office, and it matters now that the film aged well enough to enjoy with our children nearly three decades later. Who among you can’t quote at least part of Grace Jones’ snappy dialogue in the restaurant scene? (“p—y, p—-y, p—y, pusssss!”). 

I have yet to tackle the Roots remake from 2016, which I’ve heard is good and may receive a viewership boost considering Bridgerton’s resident snack, Rege-Jean Page, plays Chicken George. Sure, the original was made in the 1970s and much of it aged like cottage cheese left in the sun (Leslie Uggams’ Kizzy character and a white man produced…Ben Vereen?). But we’re talking about my seventh grade history class with the huge Magnavox television and VCR that may or may not work on any given day. I watched the chunky, multi-cassette box set again at home with my dad. These are memories here, man.

Some of these proposed remakes are simply appalling to think about. I flatly do not want to see a Good Times remake; the original is as 1970s as it gets, and belongs in eternal syndication, not trifled with by folks toying with the spirit of a sepia-toned era that they’ll never properly be able to replicate. Also, Queen Latifah is apparently working on a Living Single reboot featuring all the original actors – if I see Kyle and Maxine try to do the sexual tension bit again in their 50s, I’m throwing the remote at my flat-screen television.

Amazon Studios

Of course, Black nostalgia is not limited to just Black media, but some still provokes the same feeling of nostalgia: I haven’t bothered watching the Saved By The Bell reboot on Peacock, mainly because no one I know has Peacock, but also because there’s no way the grown-up versions of the core cast will resonate with me in 2021. And the 2019 “live action” The Lion King (technically still Black because lions in Africa and James Earl Jones) is the most unnecessary remake ever of the best Disney film ever, and I refuse to ever watch it.

It’s not that all Black remakes are dead on arrival – I’m still excited about the new remake of Candyman. It’s just that there’s entirely too much original content from Black creators waiting to be shot, and constantly going back to the well for the sake of nostalgia seems cheap and exploitative; some of these projects are probably little more than the completed result of dollar signs dancing around in executives’ eyes.

I haven’t gone too far to see that this is all a business, but if you take a beloved property and turn it into cinematic tripe, expect Black Twitter to let you know with the gusto.

Now…how are we all doing this Coming 2 America watch party on Friday?

Dustin J. Seibert is a native Detroiter living in Chicago. He loves his own mama slightly more than he loves music and exercises every day only so his French fry intake doesn’t catch up to him. Find him at wafflecolored.com.

Image Courtesy Paramount Pictures

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