The American King offers an alternate-history fantasy “what-if” look at a world led by a divinely guided leader over a united Africa. Directed by Adah Obekpa and starring Senegalese-American rapper Akon, the dramatic comedy also highlights some of the sore-spot roots of racism in America. Akon plays Sebastian, the man chosen to be king by a newly awakened spiritual force known as the Oracle.
When the Oracle’s priestess (Nse Ikpe-Etim) and her entourage come to the U.S. to bring Sebastian back to Africa, they find that he’s a recently released ex-con now hustling on Venice Beach. He’s trying to scrape together enough money to take care of his ailing mother and to repay Dmitri (Andrew Howard), the loan shark he borrowed from after being released. Dmitri gives him two days to pay, or bad things will happen.
Sebastian latches onto the fact that a street preacher talking about the importance of Africa draws a large audience. So he decides to do the same and begins to solicit funds on the street with his crew, masquerading as Africans collecting for the needy on the continent. They attract attention and funds primarily from pretty blonde women. The priestess in her robes and elaborate headdress appears to Sebastian in this setting, and he assumes she’s also a hustler but with better props. He dismisses her, but she saves him from Dmitri later that day and offers him a large sum of cash as her anointed monarch.
“…Prince Kessienna is particularly salty about being usurped by an uneducated L.A. street grifter.”
From there, The American King morphs into a pygmalion-like transformation for the lead. Juxtaposed against this comedically rich reversal of fortune is a discussion at the White House of the reappearance of the priestess. It is revealed that she’s surfaced periodically throughout history to mentor and influence African people and world governments toward a more peaceful, prosperous, and equitable world. Now she’s back to set things right once again. The U.S. government, of course, is very interested in getting into her good graces. Unfortunately, though, not everyone accepts the judgment of the Oracle. The bloodline heir to the kingdom of Africa, Prince Kessienna (Enyinna Nwigwe), is particularly salty about being usurped by an uneducated L.A. street grifter.
Despite the small budget, The American King delivers in big ways. It’s like Coming to America in reverse, with the protagonist becoming a king. It turns out Akon is a natural-born actor. He has an easy, comfortable manner on camera reminiscent of Eddie Murphy in the 1980s.
While the comedy goes for some cheap shots (the film takes easy aim at the Alt-White “MAGA” crowd), and the B-roll footage focuses on girls in bikinis on Venice Beach, the core narrative is a feel-good parable about pride, empathy, and wise leadership. With the help of the invisible hand of the Oracle, the African Union establishes a Wakanda-like sanctuary for governance and compassion that spans the globe to bring people together. Africa, as we know, is the cradle of civilization, and the fantasy that an enlightened Africa would lead the world to an egalitarian, peaceful, prosperous future is a warm and fuzzy balm for the chaos of our times.
"…a warm and fuzzy balm for the chaos of our times."