Vanessa Bell Calloway has revealed she auditioned for the lead female role of Lisa – Prince Akeem’s love interest in Coming to America – but had to settle for the much smaller role of Princess Imani Izzi after she was turned down. She believes that could have been due to her skin tone.
“When you have white people hiring black people in movies, sometimes a certain look is wanted,” she told Page Six in an interview. Calloway, 67, said she got the notion her rejection was because the movie’s production team “wanted a light-skinned girl.”
“I just wasn’t light enough, even though Eddie had the final say on who played Lisa.”
“That’s something that we’ve always dealt with within our race: A lot of men were indoctrinated by having a white woman or light-skinned woman on their arm,” she added.
Calloway said she had her eyes on the bigger role and did not want to play Princess Imani Izzi. Her character was Eddie Murphy’s intended wife, but in the movie, the prince rejected her and opted to leave Zamunda for America in search of love. She appeared only briefly in the 1988 film.
“I didn’t want the part of Imani, I wanted to be Lisa — I had read the script and I wanted the bigger role,” she said.
She said the film’s production team rather said she would fit the role of Imani and asked her to read and audition for that part. “At that point, I knew I was not going to get Lisa,” she said. “So I went outside in the hallway, looked over the part with five minutes of preparation, went back in, and did the best I could.”
Nevertheless, Calloway, who would reprise her role in the sequel (Coming 2 America), said she was still honored to have played a part in the iconic romantic comedy movie.
“The real deal is, when you’re in a situation like that, you wanna be a part of an Eddie Murphy movie. I wasn’t gonna say no! I would’ve loved to have had the lead part, but I was very happy to be in the movie,” she told Page Six. “I can’t lie about that. I said, ‘I’ll make the best out of this and I’ll be the best.’ It was a smaller role but it was a glamorous part to play. And Shari did a great job.”
Coming 2 America will premiere on March 5 on Amazon Prime.